Company: Montclair State University
Profile: Montclair State University’s MIX Lab (Making and Innovating for X) encourages students across the university to explore the unknown using a variety of rapid prototyping tools, including 3D printers and CNC machines.
Challenge: MSU’s “Design and Digitally Mediated Making” certificate program requires students to work as consultants. To give their clients the help they need, students must create high resolution prototypes, at a quality higher than the MIX Labs’ FDM 3D printers could produce.
Solution: After adding Form 2 stereolithography (SLA) 3D printers to their lab, MSU students can produce high resolution prototypes and iterate faster than before.
- 30-40 high resolution prototypes for clients within 4 months.
- Major time and cost savings compared to outsourcing to service providers.
- The diversity of prototyping tools broadens the capabilities of the lab
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The MIX Lab is an open innovation lab at Montclair State University. Their mission: to create agents of design by teaching their students the prototyping skills they need to be successful in the workplace. The MIX Lab is not only an open resource for students, faculty, and local entrepreneurs; it is also the home to their “Design and Digitally Mediated Making” program.
Jason Frasca and Iain Kerr lead the MIX Lab at Montclair State University (MSU) and have shepherded the program’s growth over the past two years. The educators want their students to get tactical, hands-on experience solving real problems. Students in the program are required to work with local entrepreneurs to help them refine their products so they can bring them to market.
To help their clients create these products, the MIX Lab is equipped with industry tools for rapid prototyping, including 3D printers, CNC machines, and 3D design software. As part of their externship, students develop 3D models of the products, 3D print prototypes, and iterate based on client feedback.
“The currency of the future is innovation, and the best way to understand it at any scale is through doing. The digital fabrication universe provides an entirely new way to do this. We are a combination of innovation and rapid iterative digital fabrication as a lab.”
Kerr and Frasca run the MIX Lab together and aim to make it a collaborative space that is accessible to all students.
Clients require the students’ prototypes to be highly accurate with a smooth surface finish. Tight tolerances are particularly important, especially for assemblies consisting of multiple parts. One example is a part with a ball and socket joint that a client thought was impossible to 3D print.
The team previously prototyped parts using their FDM machine, but needed something that provides more accuracy and strength. Outsourcing the printing of the prototypes on an industrial SLA machine would be more expensive, and turnaround times would be much longer compared to prototyping with an in-house desktop machine. This results in a bottleneck, as the team is working on a demanding timeline—they hope to provide a fully completed design to their client by the end of the four-month class.
Comparison of In-House FDM, SLA, and Service Bureaus
|Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)||Stereolithography (SLA)||Service Bureau|
|Primary use||Mid-range printers are used for rough, early stage prototypes, industrial FDM printers for mid-stage prototypes.||High quality looks-like and works-like prototypes, across a range of materials with application-specific properties.||Access to a range of prototyping and manufacturing technologies and support, typically on a per-part basis.|
|Cost||Mid-range desktop printers start at $2,000, industrial systems available from $15,000.||Professional desktop printers start at $3,350, large-scale industrial machines available from $80,000.||Higher cost per part than in-house desktop and (at a high throughput) industrial 3D printers.|
|Time & labor required||Manual support removal. Lengthy post-processing is required for a high-quality finish.||Washing and post-curing (both can be mostly automated). Simple post-processing to remove support marks.||Timing depends on machine capacity and availability, turnaround can range from a few days to a few weeks.|
A comparison of an FDM part (left) and an SLA part (right). The FDM part was printed on an industrial FDM machine ($15,900) and the SLA part was printed on the Form 2 ($3,350).
After working with their FDM machines for a few years, the team at the MIX Lab decided to invest in in-house SLA and purchased three Form 2 3D printers. Students and faculty of the MIX Lab find the printers useful for high resolution prototyping using Formlabs Standard and Engineering Resins.
The Form 2 is most commonly used to print detailed or precise parts, including assemblies that include hinges or screw threads and parts that require a smooth surface finish. Frasca says all three printers are running almost non-stop.
Students at the MIX lab are encouraged to collaborate with one another to create their final projects.
Using the Form 2, MSU students can quickly test and iterate on prototypes instead of waiting weeks to receive an outsourced 3D printed part. They can even produce highly accurate prototypes with multiple materials. To their client’s surprise, the students could print the ball joint in one piece in Formlabs’ Tough Resin.
“It’s a robust system. The really wonderful thing about the Formlabs SLA printers is that we get such a refined outcome. FDM is a prototyping workhorse, but you don’t get something with real world characteristics.”
By providing the best technology in the lab, Frasca says the program attracts more students with the Mediated Making Certificate every year. Professional SLA 3D printing technology provides students with the skills they need to be successful in the workforce and gives them experience with the tools they will use in the industry.
“In the past, our curriculum was about critical thinking, math, and literacy, but innovation literacy is fundamental to the future.”
Jason and Ian are dedicated to providing MSU with the best technology for innovation. The MIX Lab has become a hub at the school and even a popular destination for touring visitors. It enables students and faculty from other departments to adopt the innovation and design mindset, which contributes to their overall goal of producing agents of design.