Campus printing gets new dimension

John Hitch

Technology graduate students Diaz McDaniel and Tim Lehman dust off the protoype of a company’s emblem, which was constructed by a 3-D printer. With the new ZPrinter the school of technology has acquired, human interaction in creating protoypes is nearly u

Credit: DKS Editors

When local industry’s printing needs exceed the limitations of the second dimension, it turns to Kent State’s College of Technology for help.

That’s because of the trio of state-of-the-art 3-D printers, available at Van Deusen Hall, ready to meet the growing demand for rapid prototyping. After receiving data from a computer-aided design program, the machine, manufactured by Z Corp., builds a physical model of the CAD drawing in an enclosed chamber.

Tim Lehman and Diaz McDaniels, College of Technology graduate students, have spent the beginning of the semester honing their prototyping skills under the guidance of associate professor Verna Fitzsimmons.

Fitzsimmons believes Kent State is “ahead of the curve” in mastering this new technology. She said it gives her students an advantage over their peers in the field.

“We don’t only talk about rapid prototyping, we provide the opportunity to experience (it),” Fitzsimmons said.

No official program exists yet to exploit the rewards of the prototyping technology, but that does not stop the demand for the machines’ use.

Last week, an opportunity for experience arose when Fairmount Minerals placed an order of 80 bronze medallions adorned with the company’s logo as awards for employees.

This presented the grad students with their first chance to use the university’s newest color inkjet edition, the ZPrinter 450, on loan indefinitely from Cleveland-based Appropriate Technology.

Rich Tenaglia, president and founder of Appropriate Technology, chose to showcase the cutting-edge, cost-effective device, which was released last March, with price tag of $39,000, at the school because “Kent has been a proactive partner with (us) and with industry.”

Larger universities, such as Ohio State and Penn State also have the 450, as does the Cleveland Clinic, which uses MRI data to replicate aortic aneurysms for surgeons to study.

Another company, Denton, Inc., uses the machine to manufacture anthropomorphic test devices, better known as crash test dummies.

Lehman, who does similar work at Ferriot Inc. in Akron, thinks the prototyper can do just about anything.

“If it comes in as a drawing, we can build it,” Lehman said about the printer’s versatility.

Within four days of the order, volunteer designer Bill Kinas, senior aeronautical systems engineering technology major, had drawn up the digital schematics for the job.

The first steps of rapid prototyping are similar to those in traditional printing – except that plaster replaces paper and a special organic binder acts as the ink. Working from the bottom up, the machine brought the image to life one vertical inch per hour.

A motorized straight-edge routinely supplied more of the powdery building material to the build chamber as it pushed excess plaster over the edge of the box.


• Although the university’s newer 3-D printer can create color models, the older ZPrinter 310 may end up contributing the most to history. Two years ago, former graduate student and Ford’s Theatre tour guide Timothy Simandl, with the assistance of the 3-D printer, constructed a scale-model portion of the playhouse where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.

• “At Dr. Fitzsimmons’ suggestion, I tried the prototyper for this purpose, and the results are nothing short of astounding in that the plaster details are clear, precise and very beautiful,” he said via e-mail.

• Simandl, now living in Seattle, is currently in the process of obtaining federal funding to complete the grandiose project so that it may, someday, become a

display for the Smithsonian Institute.

-John Hitch

Upon completion, the ZPrinter 450 vibrated all loose plaster off of the model. Lehman then tenderly transported the structure to the adjacent workstation built into the main unit, where with steady hands, he used an airbrush to finish cleaning off the chalky prototype.

The thin lettering on the medallion tended to break off during first attempts Lehman and McDaniels, so the team returned to Kinas to tweak the design.

If the design works, the client can have the product the next day. This speedy procedure easily trumps the old way of building by hand, which Fitzsimmons said could take six to eight weeks.

In addition to the speed, McDaniels noted the cheap, environmentally friendly materials are safe enough to wash down the drain.

After grooming all the excess plaster off, the students applied epoxy resin to the foundation, hardening the disk before sending it to the foundry.

From there, assistant professor and foundry expert Mike Dragomier used the sturdier prototype to make a sand mold. That soon became an aluminum master pattern, which Kent State’s chapter of the American Foundry Society used to forge a pattern capable of producing four medallions at a time. The foundry should fill the company’s order by Nov. 21.

The college has had the two ZPrinter 310s for three years, but each has a different role.

To cut right to the casting process, one employs a silica-based material to form a functional mold ready to drink fluid, 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit aluminum directly after post-processing.

The other works much like its stream-lined descendant, albeit monochromatically and lacking the dual workstation.

Contact College of Technology reporter John Hitch

at [email protected]