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ABAC Goes Three Dimensional in Science and Mathematics

August 20, 2015

Students in the School of Science and Mathematics at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College are stepping into the future through a new dimension. Three dimensional printing has arrived at ABAC.

A new tool to benefit students, faculty and staff at ABAC, three-dimensional (3-D) printing or additive printing is a process of making 3-D solid objects from a digital file using additive processes. In an additive process the object is created by laying down successive layers of material until the entire object is created.

“Purchasing this 3-D printer gives us that cutting edge and puts us ahead of the game,” said Administrative Apprentice Sarah Rooks. “It opens up opportunities for new labs and visual learning because students will be able to hold the tools in their hands.”

The printer has already been used to construct a number of models connecting C1 and C2 vertebrae for science labs and as a model for deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). Having the printer is a more cost effective way to assist students in visual learning.

“If an instructor ordered models of a C1 vertebrae of the spine for each student in one class the cost would be about $200,” Rooks said. “With the 3-D printer, the cost is drastically decreased to fifty cents per student to print. And although we have only worked with traditional plastic thus far, there are additional plastic filaments available that have the appearance of wood, limestone, bronze, or iron to create 3D models.”

Dr. Johnny Evans, Dean of the School of Science and Mathematics, said faculty can make requests as to what models are needed in their labs, and the printer will do the rest. The process does take some time based on the size and volume of the model but there is an array of models available through software, online, and through the 3-D models search engine yeggi.com. The School will also be receiving different colors of plastic filament to aid in the production of models.

“While there are seven different methods to print in a 3-D form, the printer uses material extrusion,” Rooks said. “The most commonly used technology in this process is fused deposition modeling (FDM), which works using a polylactic acid (PLA) filament that is unwound from a coil and supplies material to an extrusion nozzle that can turn the flow on and off.

“The nozzle is heated to melt the material and can be moved both horizontally and vertically by a numerically controlled mechanism controlled directly by a computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) software package. The object is then produced by extruding melted material to form layers as the material hardens after extrusion from the nozzle.   The software automatically generates support structures for the model that can be discarded once the model is completed.”

Evans said the printer is available for use across the ABAC campus.
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