Group of engineering students standing by cars at Supermileage Competition

How 3D Printing is Shaping Future Engineers Today

Imagine explaining to a room full of high school students how an automobile works simply by speaking to them with some support from a video and maybe a couple of PowerPoint slides. Not only would there be the possibility of students not retaining the message, but it probably would be difficult to convey that content with just a speech.  Now picture another scenario where the same content is being taught, but instead of through a lecture, students are given the opportunity to create their own automobile, letting them discover and solve problems themselves through trial and error, with the guidance of a teacher.  In which class do you think the students are going to learn the most? If you went with the latter, you would be correct.  The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) revealed that teachers who conduct hands-on learning activities on a weekly basis out-perform their peers by more than 70% of a grade level in math and 40% of a grade level in science (U.S. Department of Education, 1999).  Schools around the globe are beginning to see the results hands-on learning yields when it comes to educating students, specifically in subjects like math and science that are responsible for shaping future engineers.  If this statistic doesn’t convince you, just ask Michael Sundblad what he thinks about hands-on learning and what he’s witnessed, especially when it comes to 3D printing.

3D Printing Leading the Race

Rim
Sundblad’s team uses 3D printing to test their spindle.

As the Engineering and Industrial Technology Instructor and both the Supermileage Coach and Robotics Team coach at Glencoe Silver Lakes School in Minnesota, Michael Sundblad has seen firsthand how much his students are learning through active participation and the utilization of 3D printing. Every year, Sundblad coaches a group of students who compete in the Minnesota Technology and Engineering Educators Association (MTEEA) Supermileage Competition, sponsored by Briggs & Stratton. The basis of the competition is to see how far your automobile design can go on one gallon of gas.  Sundblad and his students have turned to 3D printing to aid in the development of a crucial part of their design, the spindle. Using a 3D printer, his team is able to mock up parts, test them, change what’s needed, and then send it to a CNC machine to make the final product.

Sundblad also coaches FIRST Robotics team 4665. They utilize their Stratasys printer each year to develop parts for their robot. One robot needed a large gear manufactured from lightweight material. The students reverse engineered a cast iron gear and changed the center to a hex design to work on the axle. They printed the gear in ABS plastic and tested it on the robot. It worked spectacularly! Well enough so that it could have been used, even though the students had a final gear made from aluminum.

Sundblad encourages his students to “fail fast and fail often” in order to get to the right part as quickly as possible, and 3D printing allows that. Each year, his team becomes more innovative when it comes to figuring out how they can make their car lighter and able to travel farther. They hope to soon discover a strong enough material that will eliminate aluminum altogether from their spindle design, which they continue to test with 3D printing.

Sundblad’s Supermileage team is just one example of how students are continuing to develop their learning through 3D printing and experiential learning. Letting students practice the subject matter in an interactive environment is becoming increasingly more common in schools and organizations today and 3D printing is helping to lead the charge. Our initiative to introduce 3D printing to primary and secondary students kicked off this year, allowing the participating students to encounter the variety of dimensions surrounding the creation of STL designs and use of the printers to bring them to life. Increased accessibility of 3D printing in schools combined with the versatile use it provides has resulted in a greater investment into additive manufacturing technology and a more beneficial learning experience for students everywhere.

E 85 Spindle Design
Supermileage front wheel spindle design. Several were printed using a Stratasys uPrint SE plus, utilizing ABS plastic material. This steering and brake setup was used on all cars entered in the Supermilage Challenge.
Gears Evolution
Photo of a gear the Robotics students reverse engineered and made changes to, in order to fit a hex axle. The second gear is the one students designed and printed out on a 3d printer. The top gear is the final product made from aluminum on a CNC mill. The plastic gear was used throughout testing, and it worked perfectly.
Spindle Evolution
The spindles 3D printed using ABS(black) and Nylon(white)materials.
Spindle Rim Connection
How the spindle and rim attached to build the vehicle wheel.
Feature Image: 2017 Glencoe Silver Lake Supermileage Team with their vehicles.

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