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New prototyping facility benefits learning, research

Imagine an environment where teams of students collaborate on innovative designs—and then turn their ideas into tangible, real-world working products. 

A new professional 3-D prototyping facility in the College of Engineering is already expanding experiential learning scenarios such as these, as well as research possibilities, across The Ohio State University.

The facility was made possible thanks to a generous $250,000 gift by engineer and entrepreneur Nelson Kohman.

It includes two high-end 3D Systems printers. The ProJet 3500 HDMax is capable of printing in high-resolution for models that require fine details, while the ProJet 660 Pro prints full-color models, allowing for very realistic prototypes. The printers can also produce models with moving parts and pieces. 

Peter Rogers in the new professional 3-D printing facility in the College of EngineeringPeter Rogers directs the new professional 3-D printing facility, which expands possibilities for experiential learning and research.The prototyping facility is frequently used by students in the Capstone Product Design and Integrated Business and Engineering Honors programs as they work to solve real-world problems and design solutions to business needs. 

“This facility is critical to helping students develop the experiential skills needed in the workforce,” said Peter Rogers, a clinical professor of engineering education who directs the facility. “It provide hands-on learning of the real breadth of the product development process, which they need when working on multidisciplinary teams to solve real problems.”

One team of capstone design students is finding the facility especially helpful for completing their project for sponsor Cardinal Health's Fuse Innovation Center. They were tasked with designing a wearable device capable of taking vitals from patients recently discharged from a hospital and reporting them to a central hub. 

After seeing and holding an actual prototype of their first design—a watch-like device—the team quickly realized it was too large to be practical for users or their intended purpose. So they switched gears and created a quarter-sized clip-on device instead, explained mechanical engineering major and team member Nick Clark. 

“Being able to actually hold on to it was a big thing for us,” he said.

For many students, including Clark, the new facility also provides their first opportunity to see and hold a real-life object they designed in three-dimensional modeling software.

“This capability makes a huge difference in saving money, in the end product and in making sure everything works as you intended,” said biomedical engineering major Joel Watson. “Plus being able to represent our ideas so that when we go to the client we can show them what it actually looks like and get a good idea of what they think.”

The facility also drastically speeds up the prototyping process, allowing students to print new ideas almost as fast as they can design them, rather than having to wait days or weeks for outside manufacturing.

“It also helps with the user experience of the product, because you can create anything via 3-D modeling on your computer, but you won’t know how it feels and how it functions until you actually have it printed,” said industrial design major Nick Lo. “So that really helps, especially with our device since it’s going to be so hands-on.” 

The ability to connect innovative designs with real-life applications is one that especially appeals to Kohman. Since retiring from running his own engineering firm, he continues to launch and run startup companies and is currently CEO of Water Quality Solutions LLC.

Also a past capstone design project sponsor, Kohman advises future engineers to be practical and to acquire business skills.

“The thing that helped me the most is taking engineering and applying it to a business,” he said. “A lot of engineers don’t know how to do that.”

Such practicality is something students especially learn in Ohio State’s Integrated Business and Engineering Honors Program, of which Kohman is a big proponent. It teaches students how to communicate across business and technical domains and enact a multidisciplinary approach to solving complex, multi-dimensional problems.

The new 3-D printing facility also expands research possibilities for faculty and researchers across the university. 

Deborah Grzybowski, associate clinical professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, is using the facility to print realistic 3-D models of an animal cell, complete with most organelles built to scale, and multiple models of the animal cell membrane. These models will be used in conjunction with newly developed curriculum models to study of the effectiveness of new methods and aids for teaching science, math and engineering to students with visual impairments.  

“The use of the 3-D prototyping facility has been instrumental in the development of the realistic animal cell model,” said Grzybowski. “It has allowed us to rapidly try out concepts at relatively low cost so that we can go through multiple iterations without breaking the bank!”

But the current prototyping facility is just the first step. 

Rogers envisions a consortium of departments and labs with access to a virtually networked array of high-end 3-D printing resources across campus, creating a one-stop shop that shares resources to meet a variety of user needs. The printing capabilities are available at various pricing levels to any Ohio State researcher, student or academic unit as well as companies.

“Our ultimate goal is to pool our collective resources and assemble a critical mass of this very high-end equipment to further expand our research and product development capabilities in a way that helps prepare students for career success,” Rogers said.

by Candi Clevenger, College of Engineering Communications, clevenger.87@osu.edu

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