3-D Printed Life

In our PLTW Engineering courses at Concordia, we discuss a wide variety of topics, including ways parts are manufactured after they are designed.  Production methods are generally grouped into subtractive (milling, cutting, etc.) or additive manufacturing, with 3D printing falling in the latter category.  Our engineering students have used our 3D printer this year to do all sorts of fun projects in class, such as creating custom PEZ-type candy dispensers, accessory parts for a Ruben’s tube, and making 3D puzzle cubes. Our upper level engineering students have used the 3D printer outside of class to create pieces for Honors Academy projects and to craft clever solutions for our PE instructors in attaching their equipment to the new bleachers in the gym. While the 3D printer has certainly been busy this year, this method of manufacturing has some qualities that some might consider drawbacks.  Today we’ll consider them as life lessons.

The first lesson is that 3D printing takes time. Designing a part can be as simple as a few seconds, or can be done over many hours.  Then comes the printing, which can take anywhere from 20 minutes to 35 hours to print!  We have so many things that come to us so quickly and (seemingly) effortlessly, that we sometimes forget that time is an essential ingredient in everything worthwhile. Christ’s ministry on Earth was a few short years, but we often neglect the 3 decades of life that preceded it.  Let us not forget that building things of value takes time.

Another important aspect of 3D printing is to realize that not every print will work the first time. Unfortunate as they are, misprints do occur, and the most likely cause I have encountered is related to the base upon which the print is built.  In fact, our printer will not even begin a print until it has gone through an automated leveling procedure.  Even with that, sometimes the printed object will horizontally shift on the base and the rest of the print will be misshapen as a result.  At Concordia, we are not producing graduates that are finished products.  We are in the business of calibrating and preparing the base upon which the rest of our students’ lives will be built.  While not always fun or glamorous, the work of preparing a level, solid base is essential to ending up with a good product.  

The last lesson from the 3D printer is that orientation matters.  As our 3D printer builds, it adds material one layer at a time.  By rotating the object, we can change which direction the layers will lie, which in turn affects the ways that the object can support stresses and strains. While parts that are printed in different directions may superficially look the same, only those with the proper orientation for the role will function optimally.  At Concordia, we strive for everything we do to be oriented with “Christ at the Center”.  With this Christ focused guiding principle reinforced through Koinonia, Chapel, all of our classes, and our various extra-curricular activities, I hope that our students will be able to build upon their solid, level base to, in the fullness of time, create valuable works that enrich the lives of those around them.  Just like our 3D printer.