Course tests potential for 3-D printing

Students will meet with engineers at the end of the semester to present projects.

Ryan Faircloth

In awe of 3-D printing and its creative potential, Mac Cameron, a University of Minnesota physics graduate and an application engineer at Stratasys, decided he wanted to share his passion with students at the University of Minnesota.
Cameron started a 3-D printing class last fall, and the course is gaining popularity among students looking for unique jobs in technology after graduation.
In one weekend, Cameron wrote up a syllabus, tests and schedule for the class, which he later presented to a group of University leaders, who unanimously approved the idea.
The University provided Cameron with $10,000 to start the class, half of which was used to purchase a small 3-D printer, the other half for $100 in 3-D printing credit per student, he said. 
Cameron taught the class, called 3-D Printing and Additive Manufacturing, for two semesters before handing it off. 
“We wanted to create this class so anybody can come in and take it and learn it, and with doing that, we got an incredibly diverse group,” he said, adding that the class assignments were tailored so student could put them on resumes.
The class has no pre-requisites, and the instructors take the first three to four weeks of class to teach the students how to use the technology, Cameron said. He said students from different majors have enrolled in the course.
This year, about a third of the students are from Brazil because the technology is of high interest in the country, said Jeff Bersch, the class’s teaching assistant.
Derek Mathers, the class’s professor and a business development manager for product developer Worrell, said he’d like to see other University colleges offer similar courses for students interested in 3-D design.
“I want 3-D printing to be as accessible as dining is at the University of Minnesota,” Mathers said.
As a recent college graduate, Mathers said he focuses on helping students find jobs right after graduation.
For the class’s final project, engineers from companies in Minneapolis like Medtronic, St. Jude Medical and Boston Scientific, among others, will network with students and evaluate their work.
Because of the large Brazilian student enrollment, this year’s final project will focus on distributed manufacturing — bringing product parts made worldwide for final assembly in a country — in Brazil and how 3-D printing can be a part of that process, Mathers said.
“Right now, that country is on course to lose 2.5 million jobs by the end of 2015, and quite frankly, it’s going to need a manufacturing solution,” he said. 
Students have made different products in the class, ranging from an organic coffee-infused 3-D printing plastic to custom soccer shin guards fit to their legs, Cameron said.
Medical researchers have used the printers for projects like nerve and skin regeneration.
Cameron said leaving the final project open to interpretation helps students create products they’re passionate about.
“You see people use it and become obsessed with it,” he said. “It opens new doors of what can be done.”