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As a former college professor at a California State University campus a decade ago, I wonder how it would have felt hearing students and colleagues talk about what they are making in the campus 3D printing lab. Today, more and more college campuses are opening up to 3D printing technologies through adaptation of these new machines. I recently wrote about an impressive MakerBot-driven MIX Lab at Montclair State University, and one of the latest to join the ranks of the higher education 3D printing space is Iowa State University (ISU). It is great to see that it isn’t on private research universities getting into the swing of the 3D printing thing. After all, historically, manufacturing jobs have been the purview of public university students’ families, and now, as more state universities adopt 3D printing programs, a new generation of students will get to access the job training benefits from this emerging manufacturing technology.

“I spent 25 years learning how I can’t make a part. There are a lot of limitations,” said Chris Hill. “This particular process eliminates a lot of those limitations.”

The new 3D printer, a ProX 300 from 3D Systems, has been making parts since October with its 10 x 10 x 12 inch build space. However, its official unveiling occurred just last week. This was made possible by a made a $900,000 investment  from “ISU’s Center for Industrial Research and Service (CIRAS), Iowa State University’s College of Engineering, Iowa Economiciow2 Development Authority and the federal NIST Manufacturing Extension Partnership.” CIRAS spokespeople are hoping the investment in this likely disruptive technology is a sound one.

Chris Hill, CIRAS’ Head of Technology Assistance Initiatives and who now works with ISU’s 3D printer, had this to say about the investment:

“Is this technology ready for everyday use? No. But if I as a manufacturer can start getting educated now, then I kind of know what I can do with it. And when the technology gets a little better, then I can take advantage of it while my competitors are still thinking, ‘OK, now I need to start learning about this.’”

This gesture of a proactive investment in 3D printing technology in a higher education context is appropriate for the state of Iowa, which has seen a growth in other 3D printing related technologies in recent years. University of Northern Iowa already houses the largest 3D printer in North America in its Metal Casting Center. The Center is the first phase of a statewide 3D manufacturing hub, and the plans are to eventually include more than a metal 3D printer. Jerry Thiel, The Center’s Director, explains future plans:

“The center will house several different types of printers capable of printing in ceramics, metal or multiple types of polymers. Since installing our first printer, the center has assisted customers on hundreds of projects on parts ranging from a few ounces to the largest around 6000 pounds. We’ve helped organizations experience and utilize the latest in technology in metal parts ranging from replacements for light poles in Cedar Falls to rocket engines for Space X.”

Clearly, we will be seeing intra-campus collaborations using the new 3D printing technologies popping up quickly on campuses across the great Midwestern state of Iowa. This growth has even caught Hillary Clinton’s attention; last December she visited UNI’s TechWorks Campus in Waterloo, Iowa to check out the huge MAX 3D Sand Cast Printer at the Metal Casting Center (see below photo.) Discuss in the 3D Systems ProX 300 3D Printer forum over at 3DPB.com.

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[Sources/Images: Des Moines Register / WFCFCourier.com / UNI]
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