in 3D: In nine months, UA Wayne’s lab has gone from one tabletop
to international projects
Tami Lange Mosser
Just nine months ago, computer lab #3 at the University of Akron
Wayne College was just that.
A computer lab.
But in less
than a year, that space has become a 3D prototyping center, a place
not only for engineering majors, but for students of all ages. The
Orrville Area Boys and Girls Club children have learned how to create
rockets, students at Northwestern High School are learning the ropes,
and the Wayne College community has found the lab to be one of the
most popular spots on campus.
Dean Dan Deckler said it’s only going to better, and hopefully
It was a grant
from Laura B. Frick Foundation–PNC Bank Trustee that got the
ball rolling. One 3D printer was set up in a lower-level IT room
in the school’s main building. Gifts from the Romich Foundation
allowed for the purchase of two more 3D printers, one a smaller,
mobile unit that has often been taken on the road for demonstrations.
An arrangement with the Boys and Girls Club brought in resources
for a vinyl cutter and a 3D scanner.
It quickly become
apparent the enterprise needed a bigger space, so the computer lab
underwent a quick cleaning and conversion.
Next up, lab
support specialist Tom Hammond said, is a laser engraver, also a
gift from the Romich Foundation.
In all, Deckler
said, “Everything you see in here didn’t cost us a thing.
That’s the beauty of it.”
But what does
all this equipment do?
student assistant Dusty Ball, just about anything you can imagine.
computers are loaded with different computer-aided design programs
that allow the user to create everything from a coffee cup lid to
components for an engine to sliding door rollers to robot pieces
and parts. Once the design is completed, it is sent to the printer,
in the same way print documents go to traditional 2D machines.
is “printed” a layer at a time, in layers anywhere from
0.01 mm to 0.45 millimeter thick. Deckler likened the process to
putting soft-serve ice cream into a cone, building it up layer by
layer, except each layer is slightly less thick than a sheet of
It takes time,
Ball said, maybe four to six hours for some projects. Still, he
said, the new equipment makes projects affordable. “They’re
learning from their mistakes,” Ball said. “If you mess
up, you’ve messed up a dollar, a dollar fifty” worth
has been around for 20 years, Hammond said, and over the years has
become more affordable. A 3D printer can be purchased online and
designs can be downloaded from websites like thingiverse.com. “It’s
like a Netflix for parts,” Ball said.
offer 3D printing to students, Deckler said, who can bring their
files in on jump drives and ask a lab tech to print it. At Wayne,
he said, students can do their own designs in the lab and see their
projects through from beginning to end.
said, “You can start using the machines when you’re
15 years old and get excited about it.”
one Wayne student who came to the lab in search of a holder for
a game console. “He’s a business major, not an engineering
major,” Ball said. Still, he was able to design and print
what he wanted. “Curiosity is what drove him,” Ball
nothing but growth ahead. His plan is to create a fund under the
auspices of the nonprofit University of Akron Foundation, which
would allow the lab to operate independently and collect fees for
the services it can provide to the community. For instance, he said,
companies who cannot afford the technology or the human resources
to operate it could bring their ideas to the lab and have them designed
or printed there. Ball added that some companies can do the design
work but find it “costs $300 to cut out a metal test piece.
So this is a great money saver.”
The lab also
works to save money on materials, recycling the plastic that goes
into projects that didn’t quite make the grade. The pieces
are ground and run through an extruder to create the same spools
of plastic needed for new projects. As the day progress, the extruder
just keeps running. “All we do is just keep feeding it pellets,”
Deckler said. “So it has something to eat.”
and Ball are envisioning a new building for the lab, and Deckler
has already been talking to a professor in Chile about a project
that could give the lab its first international experience. The
man is looking to prototype pieces for a robot that could change
shapes, allowing it to move through tubes and pipes and morph to
make its turns.
All this, Deckler
said, in just nine months. “Just this little lab at Wayne
College is getting involved in international projects,” he
said. “How cool is that?”
COLLEGE STUDENTS WORKING ON INTERNATIONAL DEFORMABLE ROBOTICS
PAUL LOCHER, Staff Writer
Published: July 12, 2015 4:00AM
ORRVILLE -- Some students at the University of Akron
Wayne College will have an opportunity to participate in an international
engineering project this year, thanks to the efforts of professor
Deckler is working on the cutting edge of a new
technology called deformable robotics. He will travel later this
month to Santiago, Chile, for a weeklong collaboration with another
pioneer in the field, Juan Zagal of the University of Chile.
Deckler and Zagal are working to design a flexible
robot capable of altering its shape, which they envision being used
in numerous applications. The Wayne College professor said he was
put in touch with Zagal three years ago by a friend he made at the
U.S. State Department while serving as a Congressional Fellow on
the House Science and Technology Committee in Washington, D.C.
Deckler said until Wayne College got its first 3D
printer and began developing a Makerspace, there had been no way
to create parts for the robot.
Now, however, working in conjunction with Jeff Davis,
a senior design student at the University of Akron who will accompany
him to Chile, the components can be designed and created in the
3D printing lab by Wayne College students.
Among the issues Deckler said he and Zagal will
grapple with during their meeting are such things as control software,
making the robot smaller and more responsive, computer interfaces,
documentation of results and discussing possible power sources.
Travel expenses for the Wayne College team are being
underwritten by a grant from the Romich Foundation, which has been
instrumental in providing a variety of 3D printers and related equipment
to Wayne College.
Deckler said the robot could be powered either by
hydraulics, electricity or pneumatics, of which the latter looks
What sets this robot apart, Deckler said, is it
has the ability to deform itself and move around corners. He compared
its movement to that of an inchworm in crawling along surfaces.
Deckler said he believes the robot would have a
trio of immediate applications.
The first would be in pipe inspections, something
which has attracted the attention of the U.S. Navy. He noted the
Navy currently uses camera-equipped "pigs" that it sends
through miles of piping on ships. The problem, Deckler said, is
the pig is unable to make turns.
The second use, Deckler said, would be in the area
of search and rescue. He said the robot could flatten itself in
a confined space while adjusting its shape as it crawled through
Already looking ahead to when the robot could be
developed in nano form, Deckler said it could be used within the
human body to crawl down blood vessels and inspect for blockages
or thin walls where an aneurism could occur.
Among the many challenges in that arena, Deckler
said, are creating on-board micro-miniature computers, power sources
and cameras the robot could use.
"There are all sorts of possibilities with
this," said Deckler, adding the biggest immediate advantage
will be in allowing Wayne College students to work internationally
on an engineering challenge.
"This will be a real success if our graduate
students can collaborate internationally with their counterparts
in Chile. It will help both sets of grad students to understand
that we're living in an international world," Deckler noted.
Deckler recently announced he would step away from
his position as interim dean to return to teaching. He said he wanted
time to pursue robotic development, noting working with Zagal would
be "the opportunity of a lifetime. I have to take it."
Reporter Paul Locher can be reached at 330-682-2055
or firstname.lastname@example.org. He's @plocherTDR on Twitter.