Dylan Swift demonstrates how a duck call is assembled for assistant principal Tammie McKenzie. The duck call was made using a 3D printer in his advanced computer aided design class at CHS.
Dylan Swift demonstrates how a duck call is assembled for assistant principal Tammie McKenzie. The duck call was made using a 3D printer in his advanced computer aided design class at CHS.
December 26, 2013

From smartphone cases to medical ball joints, 3-D printers are changing the manufacturing industry - and Carroll High School students have access to their very own in Doug Leiting's advanced computer aided design class.

The school board approved the $36,000 purchase last spring, to be paid in six annual installments of $6,000. At the school board meeting last week, students gave board members a brief demonstration of the printer.

The first step in using the printer is designing the piece to be built through a software program called SolidWorks. Layer by layer, the machine lays out two materials - the sparse, high or low density plastic-like substance that forms the object, and a soluble base material that initially helps hold different parts together and is dissolved when the piece is finished printing.

For example, one student created a wrench. The soluble base material filled the area around the moving parts, holding them steady through the printing. Then it was dissolved, freeing those pieces to move so the wrench could open and close. Ultimately, the tool worked, no different than a steel version that could be found in a mechanic shop, said Jacob Venteicher.

The machine works through a computer chip that determines the percentages of each material that is used at each point on the layer, Venteicher explained. The high density is the most structurally sound, while the low density is cheaper; the low density is less solid because it is essentially honeycombed, said Venteicher.

According to assistant principal Tammie McKenzie, the cost for the material is about $5 per cubic inch.

Students in the class have made an array of items such as wrenches, duck calls, phone cases, a Harley-Davidson motorcycle engine, a skid loader and the inline valve displacement of an engine, said Leiting. One student designed the pieces he needed for a physics project and printed them to take to his next class.

"Engagement and interest has improved drastically," Leiting said. "The students can actually see the finished project they invented or devised. They can make two parts and see how things fit in different calibrations."

The 3-D printer is used in the advanced CAD class offered through Des Moines Area Community College. Students essentially write their own 14-week curriculum, determining what they want to learn through the class. On Fridays, all students present their work for the week, teaching the rest of the students in the class. This fall semester, Leiting had 15 students in the class.

"With the way the world is turning, this is a real-world application," he said, adding that he had been looking at the 3-D printers for awhile before approaching the board. "It's more effective than teaching out of a book. Students can actually apply the concepts to the physical, and it's possible to have a working product when they're done."

Leiting also teaches a second DMACC CAD class, as well as architectural design, materials and processes classes. This fall the program had about 75 students total, most male, but including a few more female students than previous years. The new machine has piqued curiosity, and he said he expects to see the program grow even stronger.

"A lot of interest is spreading by word of mouth," said Leiting. "Students see the things that have been done, and kids are curious about how it works, how to make things. A lot of people are peeking their heads in the door to see what we're working on or if anything is printing."

The maximum dimensions for any object in the Carroll High 3-D printer is 8 inches wide by 8 inches long by 6 inches tall. In an industrial-sized printer, it would theoretically be possible to build a car, said one student.

The applications of the machine are limited only by the imagination. Leiting's class has made obsolete machine parts for the shop that could no longer be purchased and replaced, according to board member LaVerne Dirkx. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is sending a 3-D printer to the space station to enable astronauts to make the tools and parts they would need to fix any unforeseen problems in space. In the medical field, the design process and printing capability makes it possible to custom-fit ball joints and teeth caps in surgeries, allowing doctors to custom-fit the pieces in a hip, knee or elbow replacement for better health and greater comfort, said Leiting.

The availability of the 3-D printer in the high school is also pushing Carroll students past their peers, confirmed junior Colton Thompson, who said an Iowa State University representative giving him a campus tour "couldn't have been more surprised" to hear he already had a printer in his high school.

Basic CAD is the only prerequisite for the class. Carroll High senior Isaac Riesselman said he completed all the classes before his senior year, but he wished he hadn't because he still wants to be in the lab.

Leiting is hoping to add two stand-alone software classes in the next few years for SolidWorks and Autodesk Inventor, two different programs to which CHS already has access.

"It was certainly an investment the board made in agreeing to purchase that equipment," said superintendent Rob Cordes, adding that he believed the investment worthwhile. "That is the highest level of critical thinking students have to demonstrate in order to produce their products."

The board also purchased a laser engraver last year when the Carroll district embarked on its one-to-one initiative. The machine cost about $15,000, which is what it would have cost to simply have the Chromebooks, MacBooks and iPads engraved by a different company, said Craig Rowedder. Unlike a label, an engraving cannot be easily removed, he said.

Purchasing the machine has also enabled the school to charge for engraving for other area schools that have completed a one-to-one initiative, said Rowedder, who also gave board members a demonstration at last week's meeting.

The 3-D printer was purchased using Carl Perkins funds, while the laser engraver was purchased using sales-tax funds.

"If we're going to take our kids into the future, we're going to need some different things like this," said board president Kim Tiefenthaler. "I think tonight, just seeing that printer, for one, it was a big deal. That's getting impressive, the things they can do."