- Associated Press - Monday, March 3, 2014

YANKTON, S.D. (AP) - At a lab at Yankton High School, sophomore Andrew Smith finishes designing a smartphone case on his computer screen and prints the image.

After about an hour, he walks over to the printer, picks up the case and puts it on his phone.

It’s a perfect fit.

“It only took me twice to get it just right,” Smith said with a laugh.

The student was using one of the school’s 15 new 3-D printers installed in January. The school purchased the $1,300 machines in December using a $25,000 donation from Larry Ness of First Dakota National Bank.

“To make it and hold it and feel the weight of it in your hands right after you see it on the screen, it’s a really cool experience,” Smith said.

Also known as additive manufacturing, 3-D printing is a process that makes a three-dimensional object by building, or “printing,” successive layers of material. It is often explained as traditional computer printing that simply adds a third dimension. It differs from traditional machining, which typically removes materials by cutting or drilling.

Used at Yankton High School for drafting classes, the 3-D printers allow students to view their projects in a completely different way, said Bret Johnson, career and technical education teacher.

“Instead of just drawing an object, these kids can print it out and see if it actually fits, has the form they wanted and the function they wanted - the three main objectives of a lesson,” he said.

To begin a project, students create an object using a program called SolidWorks, Johnson said. The computer-aided design software is one of several that works with 3-D printers.

“Basically, it’s a 3-D virtual world where students will start off with a solid block of material on the computer,” he said. “Then they just start removing things they don’t need - or they can add to it - to draw up their projects.”

After the file is created, it’s sent to the printer. That’s where things get a little more interesting, Johnson said.

“It’s a lot like a hot glue gun,” he said. “It takes a piece of plastic that looks like weed-eater string, and it forces it through a tip that is 260 degrees Celsius. And layer-by-layer, it draws and prints that item out.”

Johnson compared the process to that of an MRI scan.

“What the MRI does is it takes your body and basically slices it,” he said. “A 3-D printer basically works the same way. It takes the image that you draw and it will print it in slices, working its way up.”

The time needed to print projects varies, but most objects take between 45 and 60 minutes, Johnson said.

Items printed by students so far include a crescent wrench, tape dispensers, chip clips and a miniature Taj Mahal.

“They’ve come up with all kinds of things,” Johnson said.

While Yankton High School students are somewhat restricted by their printers’ 5-by-5-by-5-inch templates, the possibilities with 3-D printing are practically limitless, the teacher said.

“If you can think of it, you can build it, and these things can print it,” he said. “They’re printing everything from candy to human body parts. There’s even been a printer developed that will print a 2,500-square-foot building out of concrete. You can do about anything.”

The 3-D printers are especially helpful in the classroom because computer-aided design programs don’t always tell the entire story, Johnson said. With certain designs, it can be difficult to view the inside of an object, he said.

“In a virtual world, everything pretty much fits,” Johnson said. “But the students find out very quickly that when they print it out, it doesn’t always work.”

That was the case for sophomore Adrienne Kusek, who designed a box to house a travel pack of facial tissues.

“My first time at it, it was a complete failure,” Kusek said. “But what’s cool about the 3-D printers is that you can find out what is wrong with your design, and you can go back and change it.”

Smith added that the printers are also a significant help to students like him that are hands-on learners.

“I can’t learn from a book that well, so this is the best way for me to do it,” he said.

Along with increasing his students’ knowledge, Johnson said the 3-D printers have also added another benefit - enthusiasm in the classroom.

“I have kids that are excited to come into drafting class, and now I even have students coming in during their open campus periods,” he said. “And that’s pretty exciting for me, too.”

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Information from: Yankton Press and Dakotan, https://www.yankton.net/


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