Student helps 3-D printing course take off

Chris Hennessey
January 06, 2017

UNIVERSITY Park, Pa. — Spending part of a summer teaching people how to make tiny gliders and fly them may sound like a camp counselor's task, but for Penn State student Andrew Bellows, it was a critical experience in his journey toward an engineering career. And his students were not children, but defense industry and military engineers.

Bellows, a junior mechanical engineering student, helped deliver a three-day short course on additive manufacturing hosted by the Applied Research Laboratory (ARL) at Penn State and supported by the Naval Sea Systems Command. Held in late August, the Operational Responsiveness Through Additive Manufacturing Short Course drew 20 participants, all working engineers, to the University Park Campus to learn about 3-D printing.

The goal was to illustrate that 3-D printing can be "operationally responsive," meaning that it can be fast enough to create parts on-demand during military operations.

"One of the things we were trying to show was that you can turn parts around quickly. You can rapid prototype and print it in a day or two," Bellows said. The gliders were 3-D printed and used as the example for the class.

The gliders are constructed of polylactic acid, a biodegradable plastic made from renewable resources like cornstarch. Bellows used 3-D printers at the Made by Design lab — part of the Penn State School of Engineering Design, Technology and Professional Programs, and in the Maker Commons — a lab of 32 3-D printers in Pattee Library's Knowledge Commons, for the project. All of the 3-D printers used are MakerBot Replicator 5th Generation models.

For the exercise, Bellows provided two custom glider parts to all participants that he designed — a pre-printed body and a nose fin. The participants then did their part by learning how to use design software and computer-aided modeling to print their own designs for wings and two stabilizers. They then moved on to post-processing: removing the parts from the printer and preparing them for assembly.

Once assembled, the craft were ready for flight-testing, and the class headed to an open, grassy spot in Innovation Park.

"They flew really well," Bellows said. "Most flew between 50 and 100 feet."

Tim Simpson, professor of mechanical engineering and co-director of the Center for Innovative Materials Process through Direct Digital Deposition, a Penn State center focused on the advancement of additive manufacturing, was part of the team offering the class and recruited Bellows to play a role.

"We challenged Andrew to help design and develop a new 3-D printing activity that we could use in the classroom with students of any age," Simpson said. "The glider was a great example to illustrate the benefits and advantages of 3-D printing."

Bellows also created a website entirely on his own using to help instruct students on the process of creating their glider. The website offered step-by-step instructions, provided the initial models for students to download, and showed some design possibilities.

Looking back, Bellows is pleased he decided to spend the summer in State College instead of going home to the Pittsburgh area or seeking an internship. In addition to the ARL short course, he worked on another project in the Harold and Inge Marcus Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering.

"I'm glad I stayed and worked on these projects. I got much more experience than I would have if I had gone and gotten a job for the summer," he said.

Bellows' next adventure in engineering will be a cooperative education program working at General Electric in New York from January through August, where hopes to add to his resume once again.

Last Updated January 06, 2017