Whet your whistle: new additive and subtractive technologies in the Department of Design


Department of Design faculty Nate Bicak and student Arielle Pollock with the department's new 3D printer.


3D printed salt shakers and a whistle.

A creative hum of classes, assignments, and new technology fill RU’s McGuffey Hall. The Department of Design is now home to two 3D printers, a power washing station, a laser cutter and a Computer Numeric Control (CNC) ShopBot.

Nate Bicak, assistant professor of design, stood with his hands immersed in rubber gloves power washing a miniature whistle. The hollow section of the whistle was filled with support material added during the printing process, which was removed through the power washing process. The whistle is the creation of second-year design student Arielle Pollock.

“I am so incredibly excited about the new 3D printers because of all the things we can do with it,” Pollock exclaimed, “I want to delve into making pieces for furniture or jewelry, like necklaces with a functioning gear pendant or rings. The possibilities are endless with these machines and I can't wait to see what all we can create with this new technology!”


Bicak power washes a 3D printed whistle while Pollock watches.

During the past two years, these technologies were acquired through the Equipment Trust Fund. The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) administers this program. This allows higher educational institutions such as Radford University to purchase equipment for instructional use through leasing agreements with the Virginia College Building Authority.

“These pieces of equipment are some of the latest prototyping technologies available in the design industries,” Bicak said, “We want our students to have experience with equipment that will be common place in their careers.”


Bicak shows an example of a CNC produced chair to Pollock. They stand in front of the new Department of Design CNC Shopbot.

Jamison Laser makes the laser cutter, which is subtractive manufacturing technology – an object is cut out of raw material into a desired shape. The laser cutter is capable of cutting and etching cardboard, chipboard, thin wood and acrylic.

Stratasys is the manufacture of both 3D printers, which are additive manufacturing technology and they print in plastics. This is a process in which several layers of plastic are put on top of each other to create a solid three-dimensional object.

ShopBot makes the CNC machine, which can cut and carve softwood, hard wood and non-ferrous metals up to 5 feet wide, 8 feet long and 6 inches thick.


The laser cutter with examples of items created with it.

Bicak said these technologies allow students to physically realize design ideas much more quickly and from production ready materials. The department currently uses these machines for prototyping student design ideas. Interior design students use the laser cutter to generate building models. In the near future they will incorporate the 3D printers for the same purpose.

Fashion Design students utilize the laser cutter to create laser-cut garments and will use the 3D printers for creating jewelry and garment closures. Fashion merchandising students create elements for their window displays with these same machines.

Soon students will use these technologies, the CNC in particular, for the production of large-scale design pieces, such as furniture and full-scale interior elements.

Recent student work involving this equipment has included sophomore interior design studio projects such as laser-cut pieces for the construction of doghouses. Juniors in the same concentration used the laser cutter to build small-scale representational models of tiny houses they created in a residential design studio.

“Merchandising students cut pieces for small scale window displays, as well as graphics for their full-scale window installations. While a senior at RU, Rachel Franz ’14, a fashion design major, used the laser cutter to cut skeletal patterns for a dress,” Bicak said.

To learn more about the Department of Design, visit www.radford.edu/design.

Sep 11, 2014