Coming soon: Business education in 3-D

Steve Childers with a few 3D printed items

Steve Childers with a few 3D printed items.

Three-dimensional printing is a hot item in the news lately. Tons of products are being created from the sophisticated desktop manufacturing devices, from toys to replacement eagle beaks. There are ongoing efforts to perfect the printing of replacement human organs.

In June, the College of Business and Economics purchased two 3-D printers for its students to utilize in their studies.

Wait. 3-D printers for business students?

"For our entrepreneurship students, it’s a resource they can use to create," explained Steve Childers, an associate professor in management. "They can build rapid prototypes with this machine. They can build something, get feedback and then have the ability to redesign and rebuild quickly."

COBE offers a degree in management with an entrepreneurship concentration designed to provide students with skill sets needed to effectively create and manage business opportunities.

Iain Clelland, also an associate professor in the Department of Management, said students will first use the printers in this fall’s Management 450 class, managing new venture creation.

"Students will be tasked within teams and will be creating products to test in terms of marketability, and they will use the printers," Clelland said, also noting that software training for the printer will be part of the course. The professor said future plans are to use the printers in marketing classes as well.

"Our focus is mostly in the areas of creativity, rapid prototyping, small market testing and small-batch manufacturing," said Clelland. "That’s the intent here: to expose the students to creativity, innovation and rapid productivity. This exposes students to the basic principles of those concepts."

A pawn in the process of being created.

A pawn in the process of being created.

The two machines housed in COBE are consumer-level 3-D printers, Childers explained. They work by feeding biodegradable plastic in string form into a printer. The plastic is then heated to about 200 degrees Celsius – that’s about 428 degrees Fahrenheit – during the printing process. The plastic quickly cools and hardens into the imagined form.

The maximum size object the printer can build is 11"x6"x6", Childers noted.

While there are numerous possibilities as to the simple structures that can be printed – Childers has printed Mickey Mouse, T-Rex and elephant figurines to test the machines – however the printers do have a few small drawbacks.

"Some objects can take up to 8-10 hours to print," Childers said.

And, like most creative processes, there’s also a small failure rate on printed materials. "For various reasons, one out of 10 printings fails," Clelland admitted, noting also that regular maintenance to the machines is required.

So, entrepreneurship students using the printers this fall need to plan ahead.

"The basic idea is we have an innovation focus here at COBE and there are lots of different ways you can approach that and using the 3-D is one outlet for that," Clelland said. "In the past, our business students may not have had the ability to be creative in making physical objects; now they can."

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Jul 31, 2013
Chad Osborne
(540) 831-7761