50 aspiring first year engineers, 10 distinctive design projects, 3 brand new Ultimakers and a Blue Express-turned-creativity-warehouse are what comprise the pilot semester of the Freshman Design POD experience. Co-instructed by Ann Saterbak and Sophia Santillan, the course features semester long design projects meant to promote the process of rapid prototyping and design, individual and group based problem solving and the “engineering without a book” mentality.
The pre-organized design projects involve community clients from local Durham groups, startups, non-profits and Duke alumni. Students had the freedom to express interest towards a specific engineering problem and solution, ranging from building a food rocket to feed bears, designing utensils for a client with epilepsy, revamping a drone to test ocean water conditions, an ADHD brain wave reader and more!
Prior to starting their semester long projects, each student chose to participate in a technical workshop, 3D printing/CAD being one of them. This gave them baseline knowledge on .stl files, the use of support, FDM technology and other essentials in both software and hardware. Ultimately, each group member developed a specific skill set in either Arduino and electronics, 3D printing/CAD or woodwork and laser cutting that they could bring to the table in order to transform their design goals into physical products. Moreover, atmospheres for collaborative learning were not only created on a project-to-project basis, but also on a skill set basis, contributing to the goal of an interdisciplinary and integrated first year design experience.
Freshman, Harry Ross, explains that since the projects seem just feasible enough, you really have to think about the prototyping process and exactly how each iteration can improve your design. 3D printing has allowed his group to develop a custom made rotating cylinder that proportions the amount of bear food into their rocket before it is launched. With prior high school experience in Blender, it was a no brainer for Ross to use the Ultimakers at the POD to speed up the prototyping process.
Group partners, Mary Gooneratne and Parker Faircloth-Henise, explain that their project has ultimately been made possible through the use of 3D printing. The printers in class and at Co-Lab Studio West and East have given them the flexibility to print multiple vessels in different sizes to test. Additionally, Mary states that the real life application of their project makes it feel more purposeful and she’s learned a lot about herself and what she finds enjoyable about engineering.
Dr. Santillian notes that the biggest challenge for the students is dealing with scaling and orientation problems. In classes to come, she hopes to implement more direct CAD instruction so that students are aware of everything that is possible within the realm of 3D printing. The freshman however, certainly recognize the advantages of a custom printed part over a premade piece and never seem to shy away from 3D printing as a viable option.
From the iPhone stands created for the 3D printing/CAD technical workshop, to the 10 semester long projects and even the claw stick used to grab the reeled extension cords from the ceiling, 3D printing has thoroughly been integrated into every aspect of the design class. If you take a peek into the POD, you’ll always see the Ulimakers busily printing!