Additive technology, or 3D Printers, are not brand new. The first 3D Printer was created in the 1980s by Chuck W. Hull. They are, however, becoming more accessible and affordable than they've ever been in the past. So accessible, that Faribault students have the chance to see one in action in the classroom. 

Shattuck-St. Mary's has a 3D Printer in Fayfield Hall, their science building. In the engineering department, students use the 3D Printer for a host of different projects. There are also different after-school groups, like the robotics club, or camps like the upcoming 3D Design and Printing program through STEM@SSM, that utilize the opportunity provided by the cutting-edge technology.

S-SM staff have found many creative ways to utilize the 3D Printer, whether it be creating a car engine piece by piece, or making everyday products to solve real-life problems, like a handle to help carry multiple grocery bags at a time.

"We want to challenge students to think outside the box," said Mike Boone, engineering director at S-SM. "We want them to challenge themselves and come up with solutions to everyday problems and learn through trial and error from their prototypes."

In a broader scope, Obama referred to 3D printing in his most recent state of the union address, saying the technology could change American manufacturing and provide hi-tech jobs. 

"A once-shuttered warehouse is now a state-of-the-art lab where new workers are mastering the 3D printing that has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything," Obama said.

The possibilities of what 3D Printers can create are almost endless. Recently, Cornell doctors and engineers have been working on printing an artificial ear using living cells and 3D printing technology, according to the "Surprising Science" blog on the Smithsonian website. Other uses could range from paleontologists printing an entire dinosaur skeleton for display, or using the printer for forensic purposes like replicating a bullet lodged inside a victim, according to an article from PC Magazine. 

So, how does it work? A 3D Printer reads product design data created on professional design programs or through 3D scans, then data gets sent to the machine which slices the data -- somewhat like lunch meat -- into two-dimensional layers all the way through. The 3D Printer then builds the object one thin layer at a time, fusing each layer to the others, in an additive process. 

"You're talking about hours at a time for each piece," Boone said. "It's called a rapid prototype machine for a reason, I worked in the engineering field for thirteen years, and I know that if I would have had access to this kind of technology, a lot of my projects would have been finished much, much faster."

The 3D Printer at S-SM has been accessible to students in the area for three years now, according to John Blackmer, STEM Academy director and campus naturalist at S-SM. 

"We've had dozens of students from area elementary and middle schools take it," he said. "It’s been really fun and interesting trying to explain this exciting new technology to parents and students since, until recently, hardly anyone was familiar with what these devices can do."

Reach reporter Ashley Klemer at 333-3132 or follow her on @AshleyKlemer. 

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