Acting as one of the largest university-based innovation centers in the world, the Cleveland, Ohio-based Case Western Reserve University’s (CWRU) Sears thinkbox has become the premier hub for students and faculty to tinker and invent. CWRU is no stranger to using 3D printing technology as a tool for creativity, as researchers recently created “biohybrid” robots by combining 3D printed parts with actual sea slug muscles. Within the confines of the Sears thinkbox, a $35 million innovation center that sees an average of around 5,000 visitors per month, the university has integrated 3D printing technology from Stratasys to help transform ideas into viable products.
The Sears thinkbox contains Stratasys FDM and PolyJet-based 3D printers, both of which have enhanced the projects that students are now capable of orchestrating. Prior to the opening of the thinkbox, CWRU only had two 3D printers on their campus, which were only accessible to a small group of engineering students and their respective professors. Now, a vast number of students have been able to utilize the 3D printing technology with the innovation center on wide range projects.
“The 3D printers have helped us broaden the scope of projects coming through our center and provided much-added value for students as they develop their prototypes,” said Malcolm Cooke, executive director of the thinkbox and an associate professor of engineering at CWRU. “They can get prototypes very quickly and early in the design stage, which translates into more design modifications. They can then communicate the design to team members. This is much easier than just looking at a CAD screen.”
Thus far, completed 3D printed projects include the production of off-road vehicles for the Baja SAE Intercollegiate Design Competition, robotics parts for NASA Robotics Competition submissions, as well as 3D printed brain parts that helped enhance neuroanatomy learning for medical students. Currently, the thinkbox is aiming to expand their material options, which will enable students to use 3D printing technology for even more creative projects. The primary goal of the innovation hub is to equip students with the proper skills and team-building experience that has come to be expected in today’s employment world.
“Most companies want technical skills and multidisciplinary team experience,” said Cooke. “Through Sears thinkbox, we’re able to promote the use of creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship across campus. This, in turn, supports a wide range of inter-disciplinary exploration and activity.”
As for the Eden Prairie, Minnesota-headquartered 3D printing giant Stratasys, they’ve seen their technology used in educational institutions of all levels. Earlier this year, they launched free 3D printing education modules for middle and high school students, and have also found a home at the SMART 3D Printing Lab in SUNY New Paltz’s Hudson Valley Advanced Manufacturing Center (HVAMC), which currently contains four different Stratasys 3D printers. Now, with their recent integration within the Sears thinkbox, Stratasys is looking to further their contribution to innovative projects and become the go-to 3D printing company for all educational endeavors. Discuss further over in the CWRU & 3D Printing forum at 3DPB.com.
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