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3D Innovation Hub Creates Student Success

During his first week of classes at the University of Maryland’s (UM) Clark School of Engineering, Howard Community College (HCC) graduate Kevin Moreno stood before his fluid mechanics class and shared a little about himself.

“I was the only one in class who specialized in 3D printers,” he said. Though only four days into the semester, Moreno could see just how much his experience at HCC was going to benefit him at UM. Before transferring, Moreno had been a lab technician at HCC’s new 3D Innovation Hub, and now he has a job as a 3D lab tech at UM. His new class assignment is to design a prototype and scale model. Having the hands-on experience with 3D printing will help him create a real-life prototype. He imagines many students like him will benefit from having the 3D Innovation Hub.

HCC opened the 3D Innovation Hub last spring, after receiving 3D printing equipment from the Howard County Economic Development Authority. Located in Duncan Hall, one of the college’s central academic buildings, the Hub provides students with opportunities to build objects with real-life applications and faculty with opportunities to develop specialized models for classroom instruction.

Three-dimensional printing, also known as custom additive manufacturing, uses materials such as plastic filament or plaster powder to construct three-dimensional objects that are used in educational visualization, demonstration, and even prototype testing. To integrate additive manufacturing technology into the learning environment, the 3D Innovation Hub is a glass-walled center that encourages students and the public to watch 3D printed objects being made.

“The 3D Innovation Hub will inspire our faculty and staff to integrate additive manufacturing technology in their classes,” said Dr. Kate Hetherington, president of HCC. “It also exposes students to a technology that is changing business and encourages local companies to partner with Howard Community College to develop innovative products in Howard County.”

In the near future, local businesses will receive full-service 3D printing. The Hub is also preparing to offer printing services to students.

“Students won’t operate the printers themselves, but they can bring a 3D model to the Hub during certain hours and pay to have a part printed,” said Mark Edelen, chair of HCC’s engineering and technology department.

As business has evolved, so have the expectations of HCC’s students. They are expected to leave HCC ready for careers or for further education.

Hetherington said the Hub will prepare students for the challenges they will face. “Our 3D Innovation Hub offers students the opportunity to create objects that have real-life applications to their careers and faculty can develop intricate, specialized models that enhance student learning.”

While the printers have been operating for less than a year, students and faculty have already manufactured a model of a flow cytometer, which is a piece of medical equipment that measures properties of cells. A real flow cytometer costs thousands of dollars, so the 3D fabricated model allows students in HCC’s medical laboratory technician program to touch and view an object that would otherwise be inaccessible.

“This is only one example of the possibilities,” said Hetherington.

Read the full article and more in the Fall 2016 issue of Pathways Magazine.

Topics: Success Stories
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