Upload and pick up your design with this 3D printing vending machine

Unveiled at the University of Texas, Cockrell School of Engineering students have launched a cutting-edge 3D printing vending machine. The Innovation Station is believed to be the third machine of its kind at a university in the U.S., following in the footsteps of both Virginia Tech and UC-Berkeley.

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Led by Associate Professor Carolyn Seepersad, a team of mechanical engineering students designed and constructed the Innovation Station, with hopes of providing students the opportunity to build objects for a variety of purposes through a web-based portal and queue system. UT students can use the machine for free by simply uploading their own CAD designs to the printer and then receiving a message to pick it up at a public bin.

“The vending machine lowers the barriers to 3D printing,” explained Seepersad. “It will help encourage all UT Austin students to take their ideas from the classroom and their extracurricular activities and bring them to life. This tool will inspire our students to think like entrepreneurs.”

The team built the Innovation Station by modifying a pair of Atmel powered MakerBot Replicator 2 printers, adding several unique components and hardware of their own, and optimizing it to print two jobs simultaneously. The team also developed the infrastructure that holds the 3D printers, as well as the mechanisms that make it operate like a vending machine.

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“The Innovation Station gives students the opportunity to create. There are few feelings as rewarding as coming up with an idea and making that idea a reality,” Kuhn said. “It has been amazing to see the Innovation Station start as a cool concept and transform into a project that students can really benefit from. I really enjoyed the experience of taking a concept, prototyping, testing and then manufacturing the final product.”

Created to provide on-demand 3D printing, the concept hopes to remove barriers to learning about 3D printing, inspire innovation and creativity, and ultimately encourage future Makers and engineers.

After an object is printed and before it is moved into a retrieval drawer for the creator to pick up, the object is removed from the surface using a patent-pending process that the team created. On a typical 3-D printer, objects are printed on an acrylic surface that allows the design to stick firmly in one place. As a result, removing a finished product from the printer can require a lot of manual force. So, Seepersad and her team discovered a solution that allows parts to be safely and automatically removed from the printer without manual assistance.

According to the university’s website, Innovation Station designs are printed on a glass surface with an aluminum panel underneath, rather than an acrylic surface. The aluminum heats the glass during printing, and once the design is finished, the aluminum separates from the glass surface. A fan cools the glass and the object so quickly that the object pops off the glass and is ready to be pushed into the retrieval drawer.

“Moving forward, we expect that students will be able to save and share their designs with one another. I hope the Innovation Station serves as a way for all students to collaborate, inspire one another and spark conversations about new ideas for designing and creating,” Seepersad concluded.

Don’t forget to join the Atmel team in Queens this month for the 5th Annual World Maker Faire. Undoubtedly, this year will be amazing as an expected 750+ Makers and 85,000+ attendees head to the New York Hall of Science to see the latest DIY gizmos and gadgets, as well as AVR Man in the flesh. Once again a Silversmith Sponsor of the event, Atmel will put the spotlight on everything from Arduino and Arduino-related projects to the latest in 3D printing. See you soon!

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