Students Learn the Power of 3D Printing

By Erin Delmore

“In the bad old days, you had to buy these massive machines and do all this expensive stuff and now you just press print,” said Picatinny STEM Office Technology Manager Shahram Dabiri.

It’s supply on demand. Picatinny Arsenal is putting the power of 3D printing in the hands of Montclair’s K-12 students, thanks to 36 printers bought by philanthropist Josh Weston and the Montclair Board of Education. The military research and manufacturing facility is stepping in to train the township’s teachers.

“These are maker-bott replica desk top printers. They look rely complicated, they’re not. It’s basically a hot glue gun and an HP printer that came together. It’s basically taking plastic, melting it and laying, layer by layer of polymer plastic to create a product,” Dabiri said.

Take a vase made by a 3D printer at Picatinny Arsenal. You couldn’t make this in a factory because the geometry along the outside is actually different from the geometry on the inside. It took about four hours to make.

“We’ve been doing 3D modeling and converting that into printable forms,” said Nahum Prasarn.

A chess piece took a mere 90 minutes.

“All you have to do is be able to think of these solid things that can be broken into smaller pieces, smaller very simple geometric shapes like a cylinder, or a cone, or a sphere,” said Montclair High School Physics teacher Emrah Altunkaya.

Altunkaya is creating a new curriculum involving the 3D printer in his classroom. That old “design the sturdiest bridge with the lightest weight” challenge is about to become a whole lot more fun.

Lisa Gary’s middle school pre-engineering class is working on a 3D printed jewelry project. She’s says the new technology is a game-changer.

“We were using things like biodegradables, you know, Styrofoam and cardboard, and now they can actually print in a plastic and test it out and then do more iterations of it,” Gary said.

Same goes for the military — because the technology is cheap, quick, mobile and virtually waste free, soldiers can build prototypes on the fly, in the field. Download, print, use and try again.

“And then it’s problem solving, like why did this not work? Why did this not match this corner? And so it’s really a ton of critical thinking skills that go into it,” said Catherine Kondreck.

Those skills are critical. The country faces a drought in students entering careers in science, tech and engineering. The team at Picatinny — established by the Department of Defense — says it’s a matter of national security.

“We have to hire U.S. citizens because of security issues. So the only way to get more people at Picatinny is to get more kids in the pipeline. That’s what we do. We’re part of the human capital office,” Dabiri said.

“Homegrown talent” worth investing in.