“We believe passionately that we are leading the next industrial revolution.”
Such was the vision set forth by Jennifer Lawton, CEO of 3-D printing company Makerbot, in a recent CEID-sponsored visit to campus. Speaking to a packed Becton Auditorium, Lawton suggested that 3-D printing technology will enable entrepreneurs to “move much faster and less expensively” in their push to drive innovation and create value. She also sees potential for a “Thingiverse” — an online marketplace for CAD files (Computer Aided Design; electronic blueprints of sorts) akin to iTunes or Amazon — to become accessible to the general public. Through partnerships with Local Motors, NASA, and Ford, this “incredibly disruptive technology” is bolstering production (in an eco-friendly way, no less) and kicking off the next industrial revolution.
Makerbot was founded in 2009 by Bre Pettis, Adam Mayer, and Zach Smith at a time when, according to Lawton, most 3-D printers cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Its ability to make affordable printers has been a critical factor in Makerbot’s place at the forefront of the rapid innovation that has taken place within the industry: having already sold 30,000 units, the company plans to release a fifth-generation model this spring at less than $1,500.
Lawton maintains that the progress signaled by the rise of the 3-D printer is unprecedented.
“This industrial revolution is setting free entrepreneurs and changing the way manufacturing works,” Lawton said. “It allows engineers to design and iterate and get to the final design much faster and cheaper.”
Thanks to industrious Yalies like Brandon Araki TC ’14, the 3-D printing scene in New Haven is starting to gain momentum as well.
In the fall of his junior year, Araki, a mechanical engineering major, was looking to start an engineering-design club with a suitemate. When the CEID opened in February 2013, he knew that the creation of a 3-D printing organization was next.
As a result, he founded the Yale 3-D Printing Organization (Y3PO) in winter 2012. The club focuses on a series of projects, such as constructing 3-D printers themselves and assembling devices to reduce wasted material at the CEID on behalf of YSEC, while doing its part to promote the technology on campus.
Though Y3PO’s project summaries might seem intimidating to the untrained eye (think Lyman extruders and Quadcopters), Araki says that the process is accessible to non-STEM students.
“It sounds complicated at first glance, but it’s really not too bad,” Araki said, reassuringly. These printers use CAD files to construct the product using molten plastic in layers “kind of like a CAT scan,” according to Lawton. The result is an object that has been printed out seemingly as simply as if it had been a piece of paper.
The movement has spread beyond Y3PO, however, as Yale professors in a range of disciplines are utilizing the process in the classroom and in research: from design and architecture courses to protein models in biology, the speed and productivity of 3-D printing are making a variety of projects more feasible.
Lawton was particularly impressed with the use of 3-D printing by the architecture department.
“We love the School of Architecture at Yale,” Lawton said. “3-D printing is clearly a part of the curriculum and a part of the way architecture is taught here.”
With three Makerbots and some more expensive models (around $50,000) that use pricier material, Yale has invested in opportunities for students to design and create with the machines. Though all undergraduates are eligible to use the 3-D printers, the CEID hosts special workshops and training sessions for those registered in its program.
If this is the beginning of a new industrial revolution, then it looks like Yalies at the CEID are part of the vanguard.
Photo Credit: CEID