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Western Auto donates 3D printer to TMHS

Design class will use printer to bring projects to life

Posted: November 22, 2013 - 1:07am

Heather Ridgway’s advanced 3D design class will be able to take their work from their computer screens to their hands once a new 3D printer makes its home at Thunder Mountain High School.

The art teacher found out recently that Western Auto Marine general manager John Weedman will be donating a $1,600 3D printer to her classroom after Christmas. Ridgway’s students are used to designing their projects using computer programs, and only being able to view them on-screen when they’re done. Having the printer — which churns out working plastic parts using special computer files — will encourage her students to create really unique projects. The change will be welcome for students who enjoy the art side of design more than the technology side.

“We have a lot of artists (in the class) who are ticked off because it’s so tech-y,” Ridgway said with a laugh. Once she has the printer, “if you do a good job and you complete it and you know it’s a good file, we’ll print it.”

One project Ridgway is excited to try out with the printer is jewelry design. Once they’re printed, her students will actually be able to wear the pieces they design in class.

“They can wear them or display them as something other than an idea on a screen,” she said.

Weedman said he recently bought two 3D printers at a trade show, and decided Western Auto Marine didn’t need to keep both.

“I thought of the school as a good place for one of them to end up,” he said. “I thought it would be a neat thing for the kids to be able to design projects and make the projects.”

He’s been having some fun with the printer before it heads over to the high school, printing luggage tags, a tiny race car and a skull. The internet is chock full of ready-made designs people have created specifically for 3D printers, he said.

“It uses a plastic filament that builds whatever you design and tell it to print,” Weedman said. “Pretty much anything that you can put into a five-inch cube, it can be built.”

Ridgway said the TMHS Robotics Club, led by math teacher Carol May, will also be using the printer. Students of the two teachers are currently working on trial designs, the best of which will be printed at Western Auto Marine at 8 a.m. Saturday. The donation will also be celebrated at that time.

Ridgway said she is “excited” about the prospect of incorporating the cutting-edge technology into her lesson plans.

“It’ll be used as a motivational tool in my class for students who are serious about 3D design,” she said.

• Contact reporter Katie Moritz at 523-2294 or at katherine.moritz@juneauempire.com. Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.

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