Teachers invited to get hands-on experience with 3-D copier at TTU

Area high school science and technology teachers can learn to use a piece of specialized equipment that is bringing realism and excitement to engineering classrooms at Tennessee Tech University.

A workshop sponsored by TTU’s Department of Manufacturing and Industrial Technology and the National Science Foundation will introduce participants to the Rapid Prototyping machine that is changing the way engineers create 3-D models.

“Rapid prototyping allows us to teach our students to create accurate 3-D models from their own software designs,” said Ismail Fidan, a TTU MIT professor who, along with department chairperson Ahmed ElSawy wrote the proposal that enabled the university to buy the equipment.

“More than 50 of our students have practiced on this technology and our goal is to share that experience with area teachers who are interested in getting hands-on experience,” said Fidan.

The Rapid Prototyping machine is in simplest terms a 3-D copier. It produces a solid, physical model from data sent to the machine from a computer. A student can use software to create a design and then see it appear as a 3-D object.

The machine, which looks very much like a large paper copier, reads the design data as thin layers and builds the model layer by layer. Much like a paper copier passes back and forth to produce a copy, the RP machine passes back and forth, each time adding a thin layer and building the model up.

The layers are made of powder, plaster and starch and can be colored using a cartridge similar to those in a color printer. With each pass of the RP machine, the model takes on the shape and color of the original design when the substance is spread into thin layers that bind to each other. Finished models are then coated so they can withstand handling.

The particular size machine Fidan chose, worth more than $90,000, is ideal for teaching. Most models can be produced in an average of an hour and a half as compared to the hours or days it would take to create the same modeling using traditional tooling methods.

“Our students are able to take more chances and be more creative because less time and effort is invested in each product,” said Fidan. “These prototypes put students and designers on equal footing and allow everyone to see, touch and handle the design that one day may be a product to be manufactured.”

Fidan stresses his desire to make sure students at many levels are able to take advantage of TTU’s new RP laboratory. As the first NSF funded educational RP lab in Tennessee, the facility will be open to area high school and technology teachers during the upcoming workshop.

The Rapid Prototyping Workshop will be held Saturday, April 17, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Registration is limited to 20 participants who will each receive a $100 stipend plus lunch and refreshments for attending. A $25 non-refundable deposit is required at registration.

Applicants should e-mail or fax a memo including contact information and a description of their technical background to Fidan at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it or 931/-372-6345. The registration deadline is Wednesday, April 7. For more information, visit http://iweb.tntech.edu/ifidan/RP_lab.htm or call Fidan at 372-6298.