Professor Claudia Wilburn shows Jordyn De LaRosa how to remove the printed pice of her design from the baseplate after printing. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Technology in the Classroom: 3D Printing at Brenau

Sep 2, 2018
Winter Elliott

The technology that’s forecasted to change the future and allow us to manufacture everything from houses to human organs on demand has come to Brenau.

In fact, 3D printing has been here since 2014, when Professor Claudia Wilburn first requested the purchase of two MakerBot Replicator Desktop 3D printers, intending to incorporate them into art and graphic design classes. Professor Wilburn learned to use this technology herself as part of a summer Appalachian Center for Craft workshop.

The technology itself is at once surprisingly simple and impressively complex. Brenau’s 3D printers are relatively small — definitely not capable of spitting out something house-size. Resembling a hollow box with a base place and an extruder that resembles a hot glue gun tip, each MakerBot printer features an easy interface. Students learn to level the base plate and use that interface to signal the printer to create their materials. The extruder then heats up a PLA, or polylactic acid, filament and carefully spins out layer after layer of hardening material, transforming a two-dimensional student design into a three-dimensional object.

On the left is an iMac used as a printing station in the lab and to the right is one of two Makerbot Replicators (5th generation).
Printing Studio at Brenau University’s Art & Design Department. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

However, the actual printing is hardly the beginning, or even the end, of the process. During Professor Wilburn’s summer workshop, she learned three different software programs, and now her students must also master the software necessary to bring their designs to fruition. Students in AR 101, Foundations:  2D and 3D Design, learn the fundamentals of the process. This class, a Liberal Education Fine Arts elective and a core class for all arts and design majors, encourages students to experiment with Tinkercad software and use their critical thinking skills to develop an idea and navigate the design process from inspiration to final project. While beginning students may work with pre-existing designs, students in more advanced classes also learn to maintain the printers and develop their own original ideas.

Character development by Art & Design major Samantha Corey. This was part of the Advanced Graphics class.

For example, Samantha Corey created a character for an animation project. Having worked with two different programs, Tinkercad and Sculptris, she prefers Sculptris, “since it allows you to really create abstract forms and edit any part of the figure.” Samantha eventually saw her character emerge from a drawing to a fully three dimensional figurine. Samantha’s final product is now fully painted, with orange hair and white garments, but it did not emerge from the printer that way. Usually printed in a neutral color, printed items must be separated from a raft, or stabilizing base, filed with sandpaper and then individually painted or coated in resin.

Alexandria Nause, who goes by “Sheik,” also used the 3D printers to create a very different, but equally impressive, work. After making a pattern, Sheik started to print a repeatable claw shape, then paused the printing process to insert fabric and secure it. Once the printing continued, the fabric was fused to the item. “Speaking as a costume designer,” Sheik comments, “the process of 3D printing on fabric opens up a whole new frontier of costuming possibilities. One no longer has to resin cast objects and find a way to either bond them to fabric or set them in a fixture that needs to be sewn in. An advancement such as this, once mastered, can be an incredible time saver.”

Texture and scales printed fused to fabric in the printing process by Fashion Design Major Sheik Nause. This project was part of the Digital Graphic Design class at Brenau.

Of course, the process does much more than allow students to visualize designs or save time. Students in classes ranging from AR 101 to GR 308, Advanced Graphics, gain valuable experience problem-solving as they learn to manage different software programs, figure out problems in item appearance or structure, and transform a flat image to a round manifestation. Responsible for developing their products and learning these new technologies, students take charge of their own learning. Experience with these machines is also directly relevant to student career goals, since the skill itself has a place on resumes. Fields such as illustration and graphic design, including the not-so-esoteric field of packaging science, increasingly regard these skills as industry standard abilities.

As projects like Samantha Corey’s and Sheik Nause’s demonstrate, students become fully invested in this work. Although it is work — with time needed to master diverse technologies and frequent opportunity for mistakes — the experience is invaluable for students who plan to use their skills to gain real-world jobs. As Professor Wilburn comments, “The process has a lot of trial and error. There’s a lot of things that can go wrong – and often do. But when everything lines up and you’ve got all of your pieces and parts arranged and aligned and the finished piece is cleaned up and polished, it’s really exciting to live in the future!”

The student work featured here is a board presenting identity design for a soap company. There is a 3D printed prototype of a bar of soap and prototypes of several package variations.
Identity Design project from Advanced Graphics with product and package design elements.

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