With the help of the Billings library TECH Center and a pair of Billings architects — one of them in training, the other practicing — a group of 10 Billings area teenagers learned last week how to design, render and print everyday items in three dimensions.
The items they created and printed ranged from cookie cutters to light switch covers.
“I have always liked designing stuff, so I made a 3-D cookie-cutter” that can slice up to 30 cookies with the flick of a wrist, said Brody Schillo, a 14-year-old Billings resident. Asked why he designed such a massive cookie-cutter — one that a 3-D printer reproduced much smaller than he designed it — Schillo only smiled. “I hate doing just one cookie at a time,” he said.
He even has a name for his creation — “The Cutt3r.”
Nick Pancheau, an architect with Collaborative Design Architects in Billings, and Logan Hendricks, an architect in training with the firm, led the students through a weeklong course in 3-D design at the library’s TECH Center, which stands for Teen Education and Creation Hub.
“3-D printing in many ways is at the forefront of technology,” said Andrew Golden, an Americorps VISTA who helped establish the TECH Center, part of the library’s Learning Lab. “The kids have been excited and they really caught on quick. They are enthused about using the technology.”
“There wasn’t much hesitation,” said Trevor Brooks, another Americorps VISTA. “There was a lot of excitement to get in there and learn, and the teachers did a great job getting them past the learning curve. At first (students) had issues just getting anything on the screen, but now they’re making complex models.”
Early on during the week, Pancheau and Hendricks took the class through SketchUp, free open-source software that architects use to design buildings and homes and others use to design various gadgets. Pancheau showed students a plastic model designed by his firm and rendered by a 3-D printer of a grain bin transformed into a house. The house was built near Great Falls, and the customer is very satisfied, he said, with what’s still known as “the Grain Bin House.”
“It’s pleasing to us,” he said, “to have the house so similar to the image.”
Pancheau makes furniture on the side, marketing it as Pare Furniture. He brought in an end table he’d built, showing students the journey the piece had taken, from sketch to 3-D modeling, then 3-D rendering (generating an image from a model), 3-D printing and the actual design of the piece.
“It helped them to visualize it, especially how the joints fit together,” he said. “They were pretty amazed how close we can get to what it will look life in real life.”
Pancheau and Hendricks also discussed with students potential applications for 3-D printing in other fields, including medicine. Scientists are working to replicate a patient’s cells so that there’s less chance of the body rejecting the copies once they’re inserted.
The technology is also being used to make copies and models using different metals, including gold and silver, as well as copper and ceramics.
Foodies have even managed to copy chocolates, they said.
“Cottage industries are springing up from people’s ideas,” Pancheau said. “This printer we’re using now costs about $2,000,” which for many people is “on the achievable end of a printer.” More expensive printers produce “more precision and more material options,” he said.
“It’s been fun and informative,” said Georgeline Morsette, 15, of Billings. “I came here interested in architecture, and to learn more about 3-D printing was really cool.”