LaunchBox unveils Idea Lab, prototyping program with advanced 3D printers

The Idea Lab at Penn State DuBois.

The Idea Lab at Penn State DuBois features 10 3D printers and a variety of other equipment that will be open for use to help budding entrepreneurs, existing business owners, and students bring ideas to life.

Credit: Penn State

DuBOIS, Pa, - Local manufacturers, students and entrepreneurs now have an opportunity to produce prototypes and reengineered parts utilizing the advanced additive manufacturing equipment now located at Penn State DuBois.

The North Central PA LaunchBox powered by Penn State DuBois, will unveil a state-of-the-art Makerspace and Idea Lab that will be available to students, entrepreneurs and existing companies looking to expand their innovative environment starting this fall. The LaunchBox is a signature program of the Invent Penn State initiative and one of 21 innovation hubs located in Penn State campus communities across Pennsylvania.

The new lab contains four types of 3D printers, 10 printers in all, 3D-scanning hardware and software, and a vinyl printer/cutter. The lab has been designed to help develop the entrepreneurial ecosystem at the campus and the surrounding communities.

Staff and instructors went through several days of training to learn the capabilities of the equipment and have worked on projects that show the potential importance to companies and individuals.

One such project took a broken part from a key piece of equipment. Staff used the 3D scanner to scan and create a digital file, convert the digital scan to the computer-aided design (CAD) software and then reengineered the part. The CAD file was then converted so the new part could be printed on one of the lab’s 3D printers and used to get that key piece of equipment up and running again with-in a short timeframe. Many local companies use 3D printing to print key parts that are caught in the supply chain so that production isn’t thrown off for long periods of time.

The Idea Lab can also be used to take an idea for a project and convert that idea into a working prototype in order to show potential investors. This application fits right into the LaunchBox’s mission of helping local entrepreneurs and inventors succeed.

The LaunchBox approached a local metal additive manufacturing start-up early on in the process for help selecting the technology for the Idea Lab. Nate Higgins, President of FreeFORM Technologies of St. Marys, helped introduce LaunchBox Director Brad Lashinsky to several 3D-printing sales companies and guided the LaunchBox to the four types of printers that were eventually purchased for the lab.

“At FreeFORM, we feel additive manufacturing has a lot to offer to existing metal manufacturers and entrepreneurs. When Penn State approached us, we were very happy to lend our expertise to their project,” Higgins said. “We also feel that Penn State DuBois has several degrees where those students would benefit from exposure to this technology before entering the workforce. Penn State DuBois will allow individuals of all ages to learn about 3D printing and scanning and really increase the entrepreneurial ecosystem of our region.”

“This 3D-printing lab is easily comparable to that of other large universities,” said Lashinsky. “Nothing else in our region matches this. It’s the most up-to-date 3D-printing lab in the region. We can produce almost anything we want to in here, as well as reverse engineer parts. If you can see it, we can make it.”

Instructor of IST Fred Terwilliger explained the different functions of the various machines saying,” They are different technologies. We have a liquid resin printer for finer detail when that is needed, but we also have filament printers that use different material but can produce at much larger volumes.”

Lashinsky said additional benefits will also be realized by the campus, as well as the community.  He said, “Students, staff and faculty will all have access to this equipment, and we will soon form an Entrepreneurship Club that will be able to take full advantage of bringing ideas to life through these printers. Area high schools will also have access to introduce their students to the world of 3D printing. We also will open up this space to local businesses who have a need for 3D printing, reverse engineering, and more.”

Funding for the Idea lab was provided through a grant from Appalachian Regional Commission’s POWER Initiative. The LaunchBox teamed with Clearfield County commissioners to secure the $725,850 intended to develop and strengthen the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem by attracting talented entrepreneurs and innovators, support manufacturing competitiveness with technical training opportunities, advance industry innovation through research and development initiatives and serve as the convener to facilitate partnerships with and between business, education, industry and economic and community development stakeholders.

The Idea Lab recently hosted a group of technology instructors from the DuBois Area High School and Middle School. The school district and LaunchBox have been discussing a partnership where students from the school district and the instructors could utilize the Idea Lab for projects as part of their school curriculum.

The campus Continuing Education (CE) Department is also working on regular programming for those looking to learn more about 3D printing. Those with an interest in teaching classes could contact the campus CE Department to discuss qualifications.

The LaunchBox and CE Department are now accepting names to be placed on a waiting list for a free Rapid Prototyping program sponsored by the North Central PREP Network – COVID-19 Economic Recovery Initiative Grant.

As part of this training program, participants will learn the principles of 3D scanning and how to use the professional 3D-scanning equipment now available at the Idea Lab. The course will also offer education on additive manufacturing design and processing utilizing the design software (TinkerCAD, Soilidworks, Control X and Design X) now available at the campus LaunchBox. Students will also learn the basics of 3D-printing principles and the four types of printing technology currently available for use at the LaunchBox.

Students will conduct projects to learn the hands-on skills above and then also be able to bring a project from their facility or a design or redesign idea that they will use as a rapid prototyping project as their final evaluation for the program while also receiving a certificate of completion in 3D printing/scanning. 

The Rapid Prototyping course is sponsored by a $24,000 grant from the North Central Partnership for Regional Economic Performance (NC PREP).

To add a name to the waiting list for this program or to find out more about the classes,  contact John Brennan, director of continuing education, at [email protected]  There are a limited number of seats in these classes. Classes began this fall and continue through spring of 2022.