IU Bids For 3D Printing Grants To Create ‘Fab Lab’

IU hopes to create a laboratory that brings together artists, teachers and community leaders and will have the ability to create almost any object.

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    A woman looks at a piece of small-scale manufacturing equipment in the Haystack Mountain School of Craft fab lab.

  • guitar design

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    Photo: Courtesy of Indiana University

    A 3D printed guitar designed at IU.

  • prosthetic leg

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    Photo: Courtesy of Indiana University

    A 3D printed prosthetic leg designed by an IU student.

Imagine playing a guitar that you created on your computer, or designing a piece of jewelry especially for a loved one, then uploading that image to a website, only for the full-scale object to be printed and delivered to your front door a week later.

This is being made possible by 3D printing and fabrication laboratories or fab labs. The technology centers that are often equipped with digital design stations, lasers and 3D printers aim to be able produce nearly any object imaginable, but on a small scale as opposed to mass manufacturing.

IU is applying for grants to build such a laboratory.

President Barack Obama acknowledged the potential of 3D printers in his State of the Union speech earlier this year and highlighted its potential to reinvigorate U.S. manufacturing. The president set aside $1 million in grants for research into 3D printing, but the process is currently on hold because of the sequester.

Even if the funds do become available again, making the case for why Bloomington needs a fab lab has been difficult, Indiana University Fine Arts Professor Nicole Jacquard says.

“Traditionally the schools that have fab labs in their universities have really strong architectural and engineering programs. Because IU doesn’t have those departments, it’s really been a struggle to make a case for why we need this equipment here and how many different departments that it’s actually touching,” she says.

Jacquard says the potential the project has is already evident. One of her undergraduate students got hired on the spot by a medical prosthetics company after he presented a prosthetic leg he designed and produced using a 3D printer.

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