June 2014

Creating the Impossible

There's a fairy tale which describes a cobbler who wakes up in the morning to see a rather beautiful pair of shoes appear miraculously on his bench - those elves are at it again.
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Virginia Tech's DREAMS Lab routinely produces fairly miraculous stuff overnight, but instead of little people, it's 3D printers that do the magic. DREAMS stands for Design, Research, and Education for Additive Manufacturing Systems. The additive part refers to the way that the printers work, which is a bit like ink jet printers.

Instead of depositing layers of ink, 3D printers add layer upon layer of polymer plastic, according to a blueprint design fed to a computer linked to the printer. The result can be virtually object you can dream up, from a mini-sized copy of Michelangelo's David to a whistle (complete with a ball rattling around inside), to a structural component of an aircraft. The printer can create trusses that are lightweight and strong, enabling engineers to design more fuel efficient cars, planes and virtually anything that moves.

Speaking of things that move, during a recent visit, Chris Williams, the director of the DREAMS lab, introduced me to Cam Buss, a student at Blacksburg High School in Virginia. While interning at the lab, Cam designed a quadcopter and fabricated it on the lab's 3D printer. The cool thing about the copter is not that not only can it fly, but it folds up into a carrying tube! Aside from the battery, motor and electronics, its structure was built ready-to-use, no assembly required, right out of the printer.

Jim Metzner

For more information on the DREAMS lab, visit http://www.dreams.me.vt.edu/

Photos: Cam Buss with his Quadcopter and an "impossible" gear matrix fabricated on a 3D Printer at VA Tech's DREAMS Lab.