New Curriculum at Columbia Career Center Includes 3D Printing

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COLUMBIA - This year the Computer Aided Design or CAD classes at the Columbia Area Career Center will take part in a new innovative curriculum for the first time. It's called Project Lead the Way and it provides Science, Technology, Engineering and Math or STEM materials and course programs for students.

One of the technologies the center uses for the program not only designs 3D model pieces, but also prints them on a 3D printer.  Project Lead the Way funded the lesson materials the teachers will use to teach the course.

Bob Allee teaches CAD students how to use this technology.  "It allows the students to take it all the way though to the end product. Before we would get it to paper form. You didn't really have an item, an object, a product. And now students can do that. They can actually hold what they created in their hand."

The center purchased the printer in 2004 for $17,000.  It was the first 3D printer in Missouri.  Now students in 10th, 11th and 12th grades are able to take the CAD class and design their own printed pieces.  These classes are also able to transfer credit to various universities including the University of Missouri-Columbia.  

Although 3D printers have been around for a while, the technology implications is ever changing.  As of right now, most uses of the printer are industrial.  Most 3D printers are able to print plastic or resin pieces that can be used as molds or small plastic pieces.  Allee said one of his students even used the printers to help others.  

"I had a nursing student use the printer for prosthetics.  She needed an elbow joint for someone, so she created an elbow joint on the computer.  And then just printed it out," he said.

The 3D printer prints much like a glue gun.  The cartridge spits out a thin plastic, the machine melts it, then spits it out in the pattern told.  The plastic stacks on top of each other in 10,000th of an inch sheets similar to a layered cake.  

However, the plastic shapes don't print quickly. Justin Crum, a CAD student, thinks the wait is worth it though.  

"It's a really slow process so you can see how it goes. It's definitely a different perspective to look at it as its printing than to look at it on the computer screen because you can see it coming together a little easier," he said.

The CAD department is also working on purchasing a 3D scanner right now.  

"It will literally scan all sides and import the 2D line drawing into the computer," Allee said.

As of right now, the applications seem to be only in the industrial world.  But Allee thinks in the future this technology could be very common.  

"If they figure out a cheaper version, I could see this being in every home printing simple objects," he said.

The Columbia Career Center also offers CAD equivalent classes for adults.