New 3D metal printer provides another tool for students, faculty

Andy Wilson, lab supervisor for East Carolina University’s College of Engineering and Technology, works on a part created in a new 3D metal printer. (ECU photos by Ken Buday)

It’s described as “another tool in the toolbox” for students in East Carolina University’s College of Engineering and Technology. In theory, it can also make the tools — and the toolbox for that matter.

A new Markforged 3D metal printer arrived in the Science and Technology Building, and staff began training on the system last week with 3Dologie installer Mike Ragsdale.

Senior students working on capstone projects or professors needing parts for research are just some of those who will benefit from the metal printer.

“You can print metal parts that you can’t make by using traditional methods,” said Josh Pitzer, director of lab operations for the college.

Students will use computer software to design the parts, and browser-based software allows the 3D metal printer to make the product. The part then goes through a washing process and later dries in an oven, allowing the metal to fuse to create an even stronger bond. The process can take a couple of days, depending on the size of the part to be printed.

The 3D metal printer gives students and researchers in the College of Engineering and Technology another option to produce parts. The college already has 3D printers that can produce objects in plastic as well as carbon fiber.

Pitzer said students going into engineering or manufacturing will learn to understand the importance of having such options, something they’ll need to know in their chosen careers.

“It’s really what the job is all about,” he said. “It’s what material, what strength and what cost. Is that $2 part in plastic good enough or do we need the $35 carbon fiber part, or the $600 metal part?”

Lab supervisor Andy Wilson trained on the process with Ragsdale and believes students will benefit going forward.

“It’s what I tell my students all the time. This will be another tool in the toolbox,” he said.

Students and professors will have access to the 3D metal printer beginning this fall.

“It’s really cool technology,” Pitzer said.

Josh Pitzer, director of lab operations for the East Carolina University College of Engineering and Technology, holds a part created with a 3D metal printer.