For more than 10 years, MIT’s mechanical engineering instructors have been using 3D printing for student learning. As the technology evolves, so do the applications.
In the 2.00b Toy Product Design course, first-year students get hands-on engineering experience while developing a prototype for a new toy. They learn to design for entertainment and play, combining wild creativity with fundamental elements of product design – from brainstorming and sketching through to detailed CAD and prototyping.
Course lead Professor David Wallace said the class is about “serious fun.”
“We break down traditional barriers and create a fun environment in which students aren’t afraid. They’re super driven and motivated to succeed.”
Bringing colorful toy designs to life
As their introduction to CAD, electronics, and 3D printing, each of the 150 students in the 2022 class created their own “Toober” toy (2-double-O-b-er, to mimic the course code). Each student began with the same cube-shaped base model, then customized the housing to create a unique interactive toy. They gained experience in CAD, mechanical engineering, electronics, software, and 3D printing (almost all the housing design elements are 3D printed).
The additive manufacturing solution best matched to this project, which was ripe with multicolored textured creations, was the office friendly, full-color Stratasys J55 3D printer. It produces the accurate, smooth parts that PolyJet technology is known for and offers vibrant Pantone® colour options and models that hold up well.
In addition to quick, low-cost prototypes, the J55 allowed students to print high quality prototypes that were almost identical to the desired end product.
Outsourcing 3D printing services
MIT’s mechanical engineering department has one J55 in house but didn’t have the capacity to 3D print all 150 of the student designs in the short time frame required. A referral led them to InterPRO Additive Manufacturing Group, part of the TriMech family of companies.
Course staff member James Penn said InterPRO was quick to respond.
“Within a couple of days, they had met with their own team to figure out a plan that would allow them to meet our tight deadline.”
The plan involved using TriMech’s three additive manufacturing centers in North America – one in Rocky Hill, Connecticut; one in Deep River, Connecticut; and one in Oakville, Ontario.
“Right off the bat, we could see how invested the TriMech team was,” James said. “They thought carefully about how to meet the deadline and their professionalism and communication were more than we could have hoped for. At the time, I remember thinking there was a five percent chance of meeting the deadline. It was close, but we made it!”
Showing students what’s possible
Tilly Swanson, a student in the toy design class, remembers the day the Toobers were delivered.
“When we arrived at the lab that day, every table had containers with the Toober shells in them. Our mentor asked us to wait, but I was excited and immediately opened my boxes. The colors were just how I wanted them to be. The corners were sharp, the sides were smooth and the ridges in the frosting were so detailed. I didn’t set them down for the rest of the lab. The 3D-printed parts felt like a dream come to life.”
Tilly had some familiarity with 3D printing before taking the course and appreciated learning much more about the scope of what’s possible. She said that thanks to her design mentors, she learned that smart design and understanding of the printer’s capabilities allowed for much more complex designs.
“The J55 printer felt like magic. In the past, I had seen 3D-printed parts as rough mock-ups, with an unfinished texture that broke easily. When we received our Toobers, I was absolutely amazed. The finish was smooth, and the colors were exactly as they had looked on the computer screen. The J55 printer produced the cleanest custom parts I had ever seen and struck me as such an incredible piece of technology.”
Professor Wallace said that the unique combination of smart design principles, hands-on lab work, exposure to leading technology, and the fun of making toys opens the students’ minds to the complex designs they can make.
“You can see how much time the students put into their designs. We see their confidence grow as they learn the skills, apply the skills, and have success.”