WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Teaching in 3-D

Jul 15, 2013

One of the newest tools at Western Illinois University is a 3-D printer that was acquired just a few weeks ago.

Instead of printing 2-D images on paper, this printer creates plastic 3-D models.

A close up of a 3-D model of the Sherman Hall bell tower created by the new printer
Credit Rich Egger

“We’ve actually been kind of surprised as faculty members come in and see this thing. Their eyes light up and they’re like, ‘I know how we can use this,’” said Roger Runquist, Director of the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Research, which is where the printer is housed.

I think it's exceeded our expectations.

He said that, for example, the School of Nursing could use it to create plastic models that demonstrate proper food portion sizes, or the Department of Geography could create a model of the Grand Canyon, which could help a visually impaired person develop a feel for what it looks like.

The printer fits on a desk top. It’s just 15 inches tall, 19 inches wide, and 13 inches deep. Runquist said it can create 3-D pieces up to about the size of a loaf of bread.

Thanks to an educational discount, the purchase price was a bit under $3,000.

“I think it’s exceeded our expectations. We weren’t expecting the detail that it’s been able to provide,” Runquist said.

“As long as we can get the model to print large enough, we are able to keep all kinds of details.”

Roger Runquist holding the bell tower pieces. The 3D printer is the black box behind his hands.
Credit Rich Egger

He also said he learns something new every time he runs it.

Runquist said 3-D printers are not yet ready for the consumer market, but he predicted that could change in a few years.

“We may not be too far from the world where instead of making a trip to the hardware store to buy a part, we’ll be able to just print it at home.”