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home : news : news Tuesday, May 24, 2016

9/18/2013 Email this articlePrint this article 
Modern marvel. Joel Schroeder, a science and technology teacher at Calamus-Wheatland High School, holds a small, plastic airplane that was created by using a 3D printer the district recently acquired. The printer allows students and staff to manufacture actual three-dimensional objects and can be used in drafting, science, art and physics classes, to name a few. Schroeder says the implications are limitless and the printers are being used in modern medicine and even in the manufacturing of aircraft. Photo by Kate Howes
C-W on cutting edge of technology with 3D printer
Calamus-Wheatland is revolutionizing education within its district with an innovative teaching aid that will enable students to bring drawings of three-dimensional objects to life.

Joel Schroeder, a science and technology teacher at Calamus-Wheatland High School, says early in the summer he and a few other staff members attended a technology conference in Dubuque.

There, they learned various ways to instill 21st century skills in students while incorporating technology at the same time.

That's when they came across a display showing how a 3D printer works.

3D printing is a groundbreaking rapid prototyping technology that utilizes a 3D printer to manufacture an actual three-dimensional object.

It is being used in numerous industries - everything from medicine to making airplanes.

"Industry is now going from typical manufacturing to 3D creations," Schroeder relates. "Hopefully we'll be able to hook the students up with some innovative things and expand their horizons as we go along."

After seeing the printer in action at the conference, Schroeder discussed purchasing one for the district with superintendent Lonnie Luepker, and a short time later it arrived at the school.

Schroeder explains theirs is an "introductory model" that is simple to operate, inexpensive to run and extremely portable and easily can travel classroom to classroom or from the secondary building to the elementary school.

As new as this technology is for students and staff alike to work with, Schroeder says it isn't taking long for them to discover the machine's true capabilities.

"It literally can take anything you can make a three-dimensional drawing of and convert it into an object," he explains.

Large rolls of biodegradable plastic on the backside of the machine circulate the plastic through a small nozzle that heats it up and then lays down beads of plastic on the base grid plate of the machine - one at a time, one after another - to create the object.

Some items take longer to make than others, Schroeder notes. A nut and bolt that fit perfectly together took approximately 30 minutes. Other items he and the students have experimented with - including small airplanes, bracelets, miniature robot figures and a variety of animals - typically take about 20 minutes to create.

"Honestly, at first we weren't quite sure what we would do with it," Schroeder says of the printer. "Then, as we started figuring things out and using it, we thought, 'Hey, this is pretty cool.' Now the students ask every day if we can print something. We're getting pretty well-versed at this, and we'll see what kinds of things we can do next."

Endless possibilities

The possibilities as to how the machine can be used are endless, Schroeder points out.

For example, in science class instead of making toothpick bridges, students actually can create one on the printer. In physics class, they can make aerodynamic objects such as planes and see how well they fly. Turbine blades can be designed to see how effective they are. It also can be useful in art and graphic design classes.

"There are all kinds of implications for this," Schroeder says. "It's quite revolutionary."

In business and industry, all kinds of companies are using them to create more efficient and effective products. For instance, some of the big aircraft manufacturing companies including Boeing are using the printer to design parts and models. The world of medicine is using 3D printing for a number of things including casts for broken limbs.

Doctors are working on being able to do a 3D scan of a broken arm and create a cast that fits perfectly to the patient's arm - one that is extremely lightweight and allows air to circulate through the cast.

Schroeder says he has read articles about various parts companies who are taking advantage of this technology and plumbers who are using the printers to generate fixtures.

The printer came with booklets explaining what items it is capable of making and how to make them, Schroeder notes.

Different colors of plastic can be used, though Calamus-Wheatland purchased black and white. Machines with double heads even can combine two colors at the same time.

The printer has piqued the students' curiosity and rejuvenated their interest in learning, and Schroeder is excited to see what the future holds and how it will change the world of education.

"In education and technology, things move pretty rapidly," he relates. "It takes time to determine what this machine will do to prepare students for college and the workforce. I'm anxious to find out what sorts of things students will be able to do with this kind of technology."

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