First there's nothing, and then out of nothing comes a solid object you can hold in your hand or wear on your body.
When it comes to Central Michigan University's
Makerbot Innovation Center, is it any wonder that the word "cool" comes up over and over again?
Three-dimensional printing technology may not be brand new, but it still has the power to fire the imaginations of students including those in Michael Mamp's 3D Printing and Fashion course, FMD 565.
Mamp said it's the only full-semester fashion course he knows of in the U.S. dedicated to 3D printing and modeling.
The class, offered each fall semester since 2015, held its annual exhibition Monday evening in Wightman Hall, displaying 3D-printed fashion designs — shoes, jewelry and more — by Mamp's 20 students, many of whom entered the course with no experience in 3D printing.
Fashion merchandising and design majors Jingrui Zhang and Erika Lamfers showed off a Chinese-inspired piece of neckware.
Zhang, from China, designed it to fit a
3D body scan of Lamfers, a senior from Hudsonville, Michigan. Using special software, they "drew" and printed the design in four pieces and laced it together on a mannequin for the exhibition, agreeing it was amazing to see it through from concept to reality.
"It's cool to see it now, once it's finished," Lamfers said.
Inspired by Chinese architecture, Jingrui Zhang designed and printed this piece.
Fabricating beyond fashion
Cutting-edge fashions aren't the only things taking shape on the Makerbot Center's 30 individual printers, which assemble creations from layer upon layer of polylactic acid, or PLA, a biodegradable polymer.
The center — a joint effort of the Office of the Provost, College of the Arts and Media and
College of Education and Human Services — serves all of CMU. Anyone with a cmich.edu email address can
set up an account and send files to be printed.
Lab assistant Danielle Little, a senior from Coleman, Michigan, said she's seen the center handle everything from engineering devices to scans of fossils including a human skull. The story behind some of the print jobs is a mystery.
"I'm not sure who's printing all the brains," she said.
Mamp said before 3D printing, designing something like a shoe could take a month or more using traditional cobblers' tools and materials. With access to virtual tools and 3D printers, CMU students can do it in a couple of hours.
On the horizon are different types of printing technology that use materials other than PLA. Makerbot clients already can send their files to companies that can even print in metal.
"In this race to keep up with technology," Mamp said, "you have to ask yourself, 'How far do you want to go?'"
Making a bold impression
Back at the exhibition, senior Kathryne Beck of Ithaca, Michigan, displayed a shoe for a client who liked comfort and simplicity — and cats. Beck knew something low-key was in order, and then she had an idea for a touch of flair.
"I needed to figure out a tread for the bottom," she recalled, and she went online to find art of cat pawprints.
Her finished 3D model is an unadorned shoe design with a tread pattern in the form of those cats' paws.
What was it like to bring that inspiration to life?
"It was definitely really cool," she said. "I can't think of another word."