November STEM Café to explore 3D printing

This prosthetic leg is one of the many things that can now be manufactured by 3D printers.
This prosthetic leg is one of the many things that can now be manufactured by 3D printers.

The technology in your home office probably allows users to print letters and photos, but what if you wanted to print 3D toys, bracelets or even dinner for your family?

Advances in 3D printing are actually allowing researchers and average folks to print everything from car parts to body parts. At the next STEM Café, visitors can find out how 3D printing actually works and how it is changing lives.

STEM Café’s “The 3D Printing Revolution” will take place from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 18, at Rock Bottom Brewery, 28256 Diehl Road in Warrenville. This casual, family-friendly event is free and open to the public. Food and drinks will be available for purchase from Rock Bottom.

This month’s speaker is Federico Sciammarella, associate professor of mechanical engineering in Northern Illinois University’s College of Engineering and Engineering Technology.

Sciammarella’s research focuses on laser-enabled manufacturing. He is a member of America Makes Roadmap Advisory Group for Additive Manufacturing and 3D Printing, and he recently was awarded a National Institute of Standards and Technology grant for $2.4 million for measurement science in additive manufacturing.

Additive manufacturing is the industry standard term for the process by which 3D printers create objects. These printers work from a digital, three-dimensional design and create objects by depositing materials layer by layer. This is different than traditional milling, where an object would be created by removing material from a solid block.

This difference is what makes 3D printing greener than traditional manufacturing methods, Sciammarella says. “Additive manufacturing builds parts with only the necessary amount of material,” he says.

As technology continues to evolve and improve, Sciammarella sees additive manufacturing as a way to reduce costs and prevent waste in the manufacturing process.

STEM Outreach Associate Pettee Guerrero demonstrates a MakerBot at a past presentation of The 3D Printing Revolution.
STEM Outreach Associate Pettee Guerrero demonstrates a MakerBot
at a past presentation of The 3D Printing Revolution.

Sciammarella says that the goal of his talk is to help people understand the current landscape of research and industry in additive manufacturing.

Researchers are working on commercial applications such as printing cars, shoes and hamburgers, he says. They are also working on medical applications that seem right out of a science fiction novel: printing human skin, kidneys and even hearts.

“There are a lot of neat things that are happening, but we have a long road ahead to make it better,” Sciammarella says.

One of the most exciting aspects of 3D printing is that the technology is coming of age during a do-it-yourself movement. People can use open-source plans to make their own 3D printers. While do-it-yourself systems can cost as little as a few hundred dollars, Sciammarella says, the more sophisticated systems can cost more than $1 million.

With this technology becoming less and less expensive, the applications of 3D printing and the innovations it can spawn will continue to grow.

The STEM Café series is just one of the many engaging events NIU STEM Outreach hosts to increase public awareness of the critical role that STEM fields play in everyday lives. For more information on upcoming STEM Cafés and other events from NIU STEM Outreach, contact Judith Dymond at (815) 753-4751 or jdymond@niu.edu.

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