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C2C Digital Magazine (Fall 2015 / Winter 2016)

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3D Printing: The Wave of the Future

By Jahvelle Rhone, Kansas State University

When entering Hale Library on the Kansas State University main campus (Manhattan, Kansas), near the IT Help Desk, you may feel as if you are revisiting the '80s from the arcade-like sounds that are produced from the 3D printer, but the MakerBot Fifth Generation Replicator 3D printer is far from a video game. 

This technology may have been invented in the 1980's, but it is making leaps and bounds in recent years due to fewer barriers.  Reasonable costs have made 3D printing more affordable and more available to the public.  3D printing using biological and artificial materials have enabled the creating of body structures, including replacement blood vessels, organs, and molecular structures. 

Figure 1: The MakerBot 5th Generation Replicator, purchased by Friends of the Library and iTAC, is a collaborative effort to encourage 3D printing throughout the Kansas State University campuses.

The idea that you can create a virtual model of an object and produce it as a real-life object seems futuristic. However, this type of technology has existed for more than 30 years and is now becoming more affordable to the general public.

Back in 2008 you could download movies, music, and even games but never a physical object/product. 3D printing is now affording us this opportunity. 

How Does it Work? 
  1. An object is either scanned by a 3D printer or its 3D specifications are entered into a computer application.
  2. Once the data is entered into the computer, it is sliced into two-dimensional layers, similar to that of salami, so the printer knows exactly how to print each layer.
  3. The printer uses these data to infuse layer upon layer in an additive process until the object is formed.
Files:  STL and OBJ are two common formats used for 3D imaging. 
  • STL (stereo lithography) – A "file format native to the stereo lithography CAD software" ("STL (file format)," June 30, 2019) created by 3D Systems, the inventors of 3D printing; a surface geometry of a three-dimensional object without any representation of color, texture, or other common CAD (computer-aided design) model attributes.
  • OBJ – A three-dimensional object containing "3D coordinates,...texture maps, and other object information"; a standard 3D image format that can be exported and opened by several 3D image editing programs. (".obj File Extension," n.d.)
  • PLA filament- MakerBot PLA filament is "a nontoxic resin made of sugar derived from field corn" ("Safe and Sound:  Makerbot PLA Filament," Oct. 23, 2015)
  • If you’re new to 3D printing, MakerBot PLA filament is a good material to start with because it’s easy to use and performs well on most prints.
  • MakerBot: Fifth-generation technology is a 3D printer option because of ease-of-use, quality, and reliability.
  • Powered by the new, user-friendly MakerBot Replicator 3D Printing Platform.
3D printing is a technology that allows you to take an idea, transfer it into a digital file, and produce an actual physical product. This allows users from various backgrounds to move from the realm of thought into an actual physical representation of an idea and has revolutionized the way a product is invented. 

There are many ways to print your own 3D product by using resources like and Autodesk’s Both references house thousands of open-source printing files created by users that you can search for by subject, type, name, etc. They also allow users to contribute their own designs and share them with other users, creating a global environment and opportunity for 3D printer users.

Environments for 3D Printing

This type of environment will allow students to produce models for prototyping, engineering, architecture, and various types of multimedia projects. 3D printing is not just the next wave of the future, it is the NOW and is currently being used all over the world. It also allows learners to visualize and use three-dimensional aids in the classroom environment, which in the past may have been a challenging concept to grasp. This environment also enhances a hands-on learning approach for tactual learners, meaning those who learn by doing. 

Scientists are currently using 3D printing to reproduce human organs. Universities, colleges, and even K-12 schools are beginning to incorporate 3D printing as a way to encourage tactual learners. This type of element encourages the users to think about learning and problem solving in a different manner.

At the Media Development Center, Hale / Farrell Library

At Kansas State University, the 3D printer is being used for cancer research and development. In May, Dr. Viktor Chikan printed an electromagnetic coil prototype that will be used to help in the fight against cancer. Dr. Chikan shared how exciting it was to be able to print out the parts at a less expensive cost in plastic, then later determine just how to approach printing the coil in silver for future use. For more on this ground breaking research, read “Cancer Treatment and Drug Delivery with the Help of Magnetic Nanoparticles” (

Figure 2:  Dr. Viktor Chikan's Web Page at Kansas State University summarizes some of his work. 

In April, Andrew McVey, a graduating senior in engineering and teaching assistant in the Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering, was featured on reddit for his semester project using our 3D printer. This is what Andrew had to say about his approach and goal in his design, “The overall scope of my project is fitting several Catan game expansions into one box. My friends, my family, and my wife's family like playing this game. My wife and I are the ones who own the game with its expansions. This means every time we take the game with us, we carry four boxes (seen here). This is very inconvenient to us. Especially when it is all for one game. These boxes waste a lot of space. I am confident that I can put all of the contents in one box.”

Figure 3: This shows a CAD rendering of an Expansion Box designed in SolidWorks by Andrew McVey.  

More about McVey's project may be seen in Reddit.  To see the article, go to

Figure 4:  This screenshot shows the "5-6 Player Catan Seafarers in One Box," developed by Andrew McVey.  

The Expansion Box design has captured a lot of positive attention.  

Figure 5: This photo shows the final 3D printout of the “Settlers of Catan” Expansion Box by Andrew McVey.  

K-State's MDC and the University's Mission

K-State’s Media Development Center (MDC) is a high-end computer lab for video editing; producing CDs and DVDs; scanning and editing images; developing web pages; three-dimensional designing and printing; creating audio recordings; and more. K-Staters use the MDC for noncommercial, academic purposes.

Digital media production advances our university’s mission, strategic priorities, and the K-State 2025 vision by providing technology that support teaching, learning, research and service. We link technologies, people, and routine work methods to empower 21st Century digital literacy, manage our resources, and evaluate our practices.

About the Author

Jahvelle Rhone is the coordinator of the Media Development Center (MDC) in the Information Technology Assistance Center (iTAC) at Kansas State University. His email is  

Note:  Co-editors were made aware that some snippets of the text were used verbatim without attribution. Since then, the original quotes were tracked down and credited.  The co-editors apologize for this oversight.  
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