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Campus 3D printing facility opens access

By Jason McAlister
From page A1 | January 09, 2014 |

Steven Lucero, TEAM Facilities Manager demonstrates how a toy mouse was replicated using the 3D printer.
Photo Credit: Wayne Tilcock, Davis Enterprise

Prototype designers and biomedical researchers outside of UC Davis soon will have access to a facility that offers high-resolution 3D printing of plastics, circuit-board printing, metalworking and customized hybrids of this machinery.

The Translating Engineering Advances to Medicine (TEAM) Prototyping Facility, already available to UCD researchers and students for about a year, will host an open house Wednesday, Jan. 15.

Designers for area small businesses who could not otherwise afford such machinery may now rent the tools with the guidance of TEAM staff to build models for fields such as biomedicine, electronics, architecture and possibly even fashion design.

In a laboratory filled with what look like the larger higher-tech cousins of standard inkjet printers, three-dimensional plastic objects are printed from the bottom up in layers, mold-injected or carved out of a block using lasers.

“Concept is important,” said Jerry Hu, TEAM Prototyping Facility director. “It is more helpful to have a 3D building in front of you to look at different angles from an architectural perspective.”

A camera scan is brought into a computer-aided design (CAD) software, and then printed, much like an inkjet but using molten plastics, which are then hardened with UV light.

One such 3D printer can print shapes in layers 50 microns thick, about half the width of a human hair, said Steven Lucero, TEAM Prototyping Facility manager.

Another type of printer can vary the rigidity of plastic at specified locations in the printed 3D object — which could be used in designing things like a human replacement joint. For example, the bone in a ball-and-socket joint has a different rigidity than the cartilage and tissue that surround the ball. These differences can be mimicked by plastics of different rigidity.

Turnaround times are relatively quick. A life-sized plastic mouse was 3D-printed in the lab in about 30 minutes, Lucero said. Such a model could have future applications in the realm of biological research. Something more intricately three-dimensional, like a plastic model of the bones of a dog skull, takes about 30 hours.

The lab is also a resource for biomedical students, who are sent on assignments within the university to talk to surgeons, both human and veterinary, in search of moldable designs that could aid surgeries.

In 2013, a group of senior undergrads built a prosthetic blinking eye (http://youtu.be/F3EPxB1PFxE), with a laser-cut steel eyelid coated in silicon rubber. Sacramento-based prosthetics company Phillip A. Danz & Associates has worked with team to build prosthetic ears and noses.

The facility also offers a local faster alternative for making circuit boards using an advanced circuit board mill, Hu said. In about 30 minutes, a circuit board can be built and tested, and refined all in one day. That process, which typically must be outsourced, often takes two weeks to a month.

The facility has a small but advanced staff who offer suggestions to perfect models during the building process.

Hu asserts that the move to open the TEAM’s facility to business outside the UC system is not designed to turn a profit but rather for the design of new tools for the pursuit of knowledge.

“A startup company doesn’t have $500,000 to buy these kinds of machines,” Hu said. And usage rates are not that high and turnaround times are faster than outsourcing.

Potential future applications include building molecular machines using molecular prototyping hybrids.

The TEAM facility, which is part of UCD’s biomedical engineering department, is in the Genome and Biomedical Sciences Facility on campus.