As the demand for 3D-printed pandemic supplies has slowed, Antoline said the Digital Fabrication Lab is getting back to a more typical schedule utilizing the myriad of 3D printers to support undergraduate design curriculum, graduate research work, faculty, staff, UC Medical Center and CCHMC, as well as some projects for local businesses and entrepreneurs.
Antoline, who has been an adjunct professor of mechanical engineering technology since 2007, said the lab came into existence to consolidate expensive and potentially underutilized industrial 3D printers under one roof in a service center.
The lab’s 35 machines include small desktop units, full-color acrylic printers, machines that print multiple materials at once, and massive equipment that towers over its operators. The additive manufacturing capabilities at the lab are extensive.
“When we started, it was only us and a small team at DAAP doing this at the university,” Antoline said. “Now there’s the makerspace [at 1819 Innovation Hub] and small 3D printers everywhere. After 12 years of printing tens of thousands of parts to support undergraduate curriculum and research, we’ve shifted more to research and printing the high-quality parts that require larger, high-tech equipment.”
Historically, medical printing accounts for a large percentage of the lab’s output. The Department of Biomedical Engineering has been one of their largest internal customers. Antoline was an early advisor to EnableUC, a UC student group that creates no cost prosthetics for children in need. The lab also frequently works with faculty and student researchers from the mechanical engineering and aerospace engineering departments. Aerospace engineers, for example, often print a prototype of an engine part in polymer resin at the Digital Fabrication Lab before having it metal 3D printed or machined, which is more expensive.