Think in three dimensions: innovative design and manufacturing finds a home at IDEAWORKS

Students working in 3D Printing lab

By: Keegan Kozolanka

Additive manufacturing—better known as 3D printing—is the adding of layer-upon-layer of fused powdered material to create an object. Consider a deck of cards. Each card is a single layer creating a three-dimensional deck. Additive manufacturing works the same way. Two-dimensional layers are added on top of each other to create a three-dimensional object.

The Additive Manufacturing Innovation Centre (AMIC) at Mohawk College’s IDEAWORKS is an experiential learning environment for students, who are also employees. AMIC provides industrial partners a low-risk environment to see how 3D printing can help them.

“A partner will come in with a specific challenge,” said Jeff McIsaac, General Manager at AMIC. “We’ll work to find that solution.”

Students are given real-world experience because projects are treated the same way as in a commercial setting. Student workers from AMIC have gone on to take great long-term jobs in their industry.

“The reason the industrial partners are hiring them is because they see the value of their time at AMIC,” McIsaac said.

While a lot of 3D printing facilities focus on a single aspect of additive manufacturing, AMIC offers a wide range of 3D printing technologies for their partners to explore. These technologies include: fused deposition modeling, stereolithography, selective laser sintering and direct metal laser sintering.

Additive manufacturing has the potential to be a game-changer. 3D printing offers a way to streamline the prototyping process for manufacturers. Typically, prototype production is a long and expensive process. With 3D printing, if you have a design, you can print your prototype very quickly with no set-up cost.

Assembly time can be cut down because parts can be integrated together.

“Parts that used to be 17 different assemblies […] now you can print it as a single unit,” McIsaac said.      

The supply chain is cut down because parts don’t need to be shipped from different places. This also has environmental benefits as well. Less fuel is used because shipping requirements are reduced. Waste is also reduced because only material needed is used in production.   

“The real impact is going to be when you use 3D printing to use things that you cannot make using conventional techniques,” McIsaac said.

A new field of design is emerging because of 3D printing’s possibilities. Current manufacturing machines are great at making straight lines, round circles and square corners. However, these kinds of designs are not usually found in nature. 3D printing can build more natural designs, which are often superior.

“As an engineer, I would never think to design something like this,” said Simon Coulson, Project Manager at AMIC. “You can create form and function that you can’t do with traditional manufacturing.”

Interested in learning more or getting involved? Join us for our 3D Printing in Action Conference on June 26th at Mohawk's Stoney Creek Campus.