The world of 3D printing is no longer an unattainable dream; 3D printers have been set up in Startup Aggieland, a facility operated by the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship at Mays Business School. These 3D printers can be used by any students who want to print out their innovative new ideas, but as a 3D model and not just as a 2D image.
Charles Hinton, I-Corps Director and Startup Aggieland veteran, is facilitating the startup process for these new 3D printers. As a Texas A&M graduate, Hinton understands the importance of students expressing their ideas in creative ways. According to Hinton, these printers will serve as the beginning of the development of a makerspace in Startup Aggieland, where students and faculty can come to design, experiment, and learn.
These 3D printers will give students the opportunity to build a touchable “first look” at the ideas and gadgets they have created in their head or on paper. This is an incredible feat for students who are looking to become entrepreneurs or students who just want to know if their idea could have any commercial value.
Users of the printer must first generate a model of the product they want to manufacture, which they can do on a 3D modeling software called Solid Works that can be acquired for free from the university. The students then bring their design to Startup Aggieland, where a different software will slice and convert the design to a printable format. The 3D printer can then get to work by adding layer upon layer of raw material fed into the printer to create a final product.
The first product created on the new 3D printers was a small baby robot, created by Hinton himself. Nearly anything can be created on these printers, including signs, cups, small toys, and any other invention a student comes up with.
Even though 3D printers can technically be used to create any object, whether it be for educational purposes or entertainment purposes, the printers at Startup Aggieland will be used strictly for entrepreneurial reasons. “Startup Aggieland is here to help students see if their ideas have any commercial value, so the printers are here to build their first prototype,” Hinton said. Students cannot come into Startup Aggieland expecting to use the 3D printers for whatever they want; there must be a valid purpose.
Research is currently being done regarding what materials can be used in the printers, but according to Hinton, this is a new science with innovations being developed regularly. A leader in the field in the development of new printing materials and filament is Essentium Materials which is Aggie-owned and operated in College Station.
Richard Lester, the executive director of the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship, has expressed much excitement about installing the fascinating equipment. “We have been researching for some time a needs assessment of our students that attend Startup, and that assessment identified the 3D printers as the first area of need,” he said. “We will continue that assessment process, and let our student needs drive the next addition to the makerspace.”
Students are currently designing prototypes to be printed and tested. With the foreseeable success of these 3D printers, the world will see a rise in Aggie entrepreneurs.