University unveils first 3-D printer available to all students

Adam Hamze

The Cockrell School of Engineering unveiled the University’s first 3-D printer that has a vending machine design on Thursday. It will be free to use for students of every college and school. 

Located in the Engineering Teaching Center, the “Innovation Station” can create a number of products, including phone cases, jewelry and parts for machines, as well as custom products that students are able to create. The device, which was funded by the Longhorn Innovation Fund for Technology, took approximately a year to be designed and is the only 3-D printer on campus that is available to every student.

While other colleges and schools at the University have 3-D printers available for student use, such as the College of Fine Arts, the Cockrell school’s new printer is the only one to utilize the vending machine design and be open for use to all students.

Mechanical engineering associate professor Carolyn Seepersad, said the printer’s accessibility is one of its most important functions. Students will be able to electronically send files from their computers to be printed and will receive a text message when their product is ready. Additionally, Seepersad said the Innovation Station’s vending machine-like construction will make usage much simpler.

“Typically with a 3-D printer … you have to scrape [your product] off a build platform,” Seepersad said. “[Our printer will] dispense the part out to the student, so they never have to touch the machine.”

Seepersad also said staff will monitor what students try to print from the printer to make sure it isn’t used to print anything that could be potentially dangerous.

“There’s been a UT student who’s been trying to 3-D print guns,” Seepersad said. “That’s one of the reasons why we have administrators who will view the queue so we can make sure everything is safe.”

One of the new printer’s leading developers, Joshua Kuhn, a mechanical engineering graduate student, said the printer’s design will be available to the general public.

“We wanted to lower the barriers of 3-D printing, so all students could access it,” Kuhn said. “All the designs for this machine are open-source and are going to be on our website, so other schools can download these files and make it themselves.”

Mechanical engineer senior James Debacker said the device will make rapid prototyping much easier.

“When you have an idea, making that idea into something that’s tangible takes a lot of time and effort,” Debacker said. “It will definitely let students explore creativity.”