Science & Technology

Printing in 3D: Easy as 1-2-3

For many, 3D printing seems futuristic and inaccessible. However, in reality 3D printing is easy, available, and relatively cheap. Those looking to get involved need look no further than right here at McGill.  

Christophe Paganon is one of four board members of the McGill 3D Printing Design Team (M3DP) and has been involved with “everything 3D printing” at McGill for the past two years. He explained the different aspects of his club, as well as how McGill students can get started in the growing and exciting field of 3D printing.   

The first responsibility of the M3DP Design Team is competition. According to Paganon, members of the team compete in online 3D modelling challenges where they create  computer aided design (CAD) for various objects, which can range from jewelry to GoPro mounts.

The innovation lab—a mix of open projects and student initiatives—is the club’s second area of interest.

“This [lab] is [for] more open projects,” Paganon said. “[If] a student has an innovative initiative, something they want to build [using] 3D printing, we facilitate this. We have four or five projects this year. We are making a prosthetic hand for a student at McGill. That’s the project I am working on.”

The club also hopes to make 3D printing more sustainable by using recycled plastic bottles to make 3D printer filament, the material used for printing.

The club has also partnered with the Redpath Museum for the past three years to scan artifacts from the museum. The scans are then used to make a digital museum where you can view models of fossils, rotate them, and look into them. The project is still in the works, but the club hopes the digital museum will be accessible online sometime in the near future.

For students who want to try their hand at 3D printing, there are plenty of resources at McGill to get started. The first thing to learn is how to use CAD software. CAD software creates a 3D model, which can then be used by the printer to create the object of interest. M3DP offers CAD training classes—starting at the beginning of next semester.

Once students familiarize themselves with CAD, 3D printing at McGill is actually quite accessible.

“It’s crazy how available 3D printing is at McGill and people don’t actually know about it,” Paganon said.

McGill students and faculty have access to 3D printers and scanners in the McLennan Library Research Commons, Room B. Users need only complete a short training session, create an account, and reserve a time prior to printing.

Chantal Petgrave, a 3D printing peer tutor, described the training sessions and gave some words of reassurance for beginners. Tutors guide inexperienced students through useful tutorial websites, among other tools.

“[We] explain how to book [printers] and how to use our software in order to ready the designs for printing […] as well as how to pay for prints and what to do in case a print fails,” Petgrave said. “[Beginners] do not have to worry because we have 3D printing peer tutors who are here to help.”

Another easy way to get involved is through The Cube, McGill’s largest operating 3D printing service run by the Engineering Undergraduate Society. Anna Henley, manager of this service, claims that The Cube differs from other 3D printing options on campus because of its quality customer service.

“Our techs are quite experienced, and we provide a bunch of ways for students who are inexperienced and unsure about a design to seek advice,” Henley said.

The Cube helps prepare users who don’t know how to use CAD software with a mentor to help make their ideas a reality.

Henley has seen a variety of “cool prints” at The Cube since its foundation in 2015. These prints include anatomical models of hearts that can be taken apart into sections, and a model of a brain for which the model was constructed from an actual patient scan. Right now, The Cube is working on printing keychains for various student groups.

Whether it be a prosthetic hand or a heart replica, the possibilities for 3D models are endless. All one has to do is get involved, get excited, and get printing!

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