Dr. Kenneth Johnson
is seeing his predictions from 1998 come true in Olivet’s Reed Hall of Science. And together with his engineering students and faculty members, Dr. Joseph Schroeder
and Professor Joseph Makarewicz
, he is laying the groundwork for a bright future of corporate research partnerships for Olivet.
In 1998, while working with the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences, NASA and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology, Dr. Johnson was one of the lead authors in developing a 10-year prediction about how 3D printing would move from a niche to a mainstream industry.
Fast forward to 2013. He is now chair of Olivet's Department of Engineering and the project manager for its 3D printing projects with Nexus LCM, a company based in the state of Washington and leading developer of advanced 3D printing solutions.Accepting new challenges
Working on these types of projects also provides excellent learning opportunities for both professors and students. “This cutting edge technology project with Nexus launched our program to the forefront of the rapidly expanding 3D printing industry,” Dr. Johnson says. “It has attracted a lot of industry attention, too.”
For Olivet’s first project with Nexus LCM, the development team included engineering majors Cory Engel (senior, Naperville, Ill.); Nebiyu Hailemariam (senior, Skokie, Ill.); Ricardo Lopez (senior, Chicago, Ill.); Aaron Lucas (senior, Byron Center, Mich.); Kendra Maxon (senior, Ottawa, Ill.); Cody Wolf (senior, Beecher, Ill.); David Powers (junior, Colorado Springs, Colo.); Kaleb Soller (senior, Indianapolis, Ind.); and Brian Willoughby (senior, Elkhart, Ind.).
Professor Makarewicz was the team leader for the electronics tasks. Dr. Johnson and Dr. Schroeder took the lead on the mechanical tasks.
The team’s assignment was to use a computer-aided design program to make a virtual prototype of a vehicle part using the technology of a 3D printer. “This allows us to explore it, see it, get inside it, become familiar before actually producing a physical part,” Dr. Johnson says.
“We’re interested in working on these projects because of how liberating this technology would be for people in need,” he adds. “A 3D printer with the correct designs has the potential of allowing people in developing countries with limited resources to make what they need when they need it.”Bringing ideas to reality
So how does this work? To produce the physical part, the design file goes from a computer to a MakerBot® 3D printer, and the printer makes the prototype, constructing it layer by layer out of plastic. This process is known as direct manufacturing.
For the project with Nexus LCM, Olivet’s team worked on three applications.First, the team created two software programs.
One program makes a flat, scannable bar code to embed in a virtual object model. The other program integrates that bar code with a replacement part needed by a remote automobile.
When the part is created at a remote location, using a 3D printer, the bar code is part of the object. When the object is scanned, the bar code provides the user with information about the part and even instructions about how to install it. This process is known as additive manufacturing with embedded item intelligence.
Once this had been accomplished, Nexus LCM came back to the team with the request for a design to embed a radio frequency device (RFID) inside a part as well.
The ONU team began designing and testing a solution in earnest. By the end of the spring 2013 semester, the team had also successfully accomplished this to the company’s specifications.
“The most exciting part of the project for me was when it was finally time to embed the RFID tag inside of a part that we had manufactured with the MakerBot,” Cory says. “To my knowledge, this was the first time anybody had used additive manufacturing to incorporate electronics inside of a solid part.”
Then, Nexus LCM asked the team to design a way to embed a vibration sensor, similar to an electronic game controller, inside a part to keep track of the part’s movement.
Once again, the team successfully designed a way to do that, leveraging the skills of several engineering students who are studying toward the concentration in electrical engineering.
All three applications will work with any part, and will provide excellent tracking and information for the end users. Nexus LCM later demonstrated these at U.S. Marine Corps exercises in Virginia and two European locations.
Matt Edwards, lead Nexus LCM engineer on the project, states: “The ONU students did an amazing job on these challenging tasks. They produced creative solutions that would have been a high accomplishment for most graduate engineering programs.”Exploring new territory
“As an undergraduate engineering student, I met with engineers and saw their eyes light up when we presented our project to them,” Kendra says. “I knew they were seeing their ideas come to life.”
“I’m really thankful for the opportunity to be a part of this project,” Kaleb says. “This gave me a glimpse of what a real job is like. I can’t wait to be involved in our industry senior projects this fall.”
Plans for the future include expanding the department’s capabilities to metal systems. The additive manufacturing laboratory that is now under construction, as part of the new Engineering Technology Center expansion of Reed Hall of Science, will help make that possible.