Northwestern State using 3-D printers to assist business and industry

Eng. Tech lab

Curtis Desselles, a lab technician in the Department of Engineering Technology at Northwestern State University, demonstrates a 3-D printer in one of the department’s laboratories.

Students and faculty at Northwestern State University are using some of the latest technology to help preserve some of Louisiana’s past.

Northwestern State is using 3-D printers for a variety of tasks such as producing prototypes for business and industry, designing mouthpieces to help musicians, creating art and making replicas of Native American pottery that can be closely examined by students and scholars.

3-D printing refers to various processes used to synthesize a three-dimensional object. In 3-D printing, successive layers of material are formed under computer control to create an object. These objects can be of almost any shape or geometry, and are produced from a 3-D model or other electronic data source. A 3-D printer is a type of industrial robot.

NSU has two 3-D printers, one that can print small objects up to 5.5 inches high, 5.5 inches wide and 5.5 inches long and another for larger size objects. The larger printer was obtained with funds from the Workforce and Innovation for a Stronger Economy Fund created by Gov. Bobby Jindal and the Louisiana Legislature in 2014.

“The printer can print something as small as .01 millimeters,” said Curtis Desselles, lab technician in the Department of Engineering Technology. “An object can be printed in as little as 15 minutes up to 10 hours.”

Desselles said the Department of Engineering Technology has created specialized nuts and bolts, parts for equipment on campus and even a mouthpiece used by tuba players in the School of Creative and Performing Arts. According to Assistant Professor of Engineering Technology Jafar F. Al-Sharab, the most practical use is to assist business and industry.

“We use the 3-D printers to solve real world problems,” said Al-Sharab. “We talk with business and industry and they tell us about problems they have encountered. We try to solve those problems.”

NSU has worked with Beta Engineering in Pineville to create a miniature substation that can be shown to clients. The university has also met with officials from Shriner’s Hospital in Shreveport to discuss making prosthetics for use by patients.

“I’ve learned there is a lot more in the world besides a CNC machine or a drill press,” said Ethan Perkins, senior industrial engineering technology major from Hornbeck. “Having this experience makes me more marketable. I’m glad Northwestern is working to stay one step ahead and is trying to get the best technology they can.”

Perkins worked with 3-D printers for three semesters and produced about 30 different things from screws and nuts to the model substation for Beta Engineering.

Desselles has worked with Professor of Anthropology Dr. Hiram F. “Pete” Gregory to produce a replica of a 15th century Caddo effigy pot that students can hold and examine. The original pot was rediscovered by Dr. Clarence Webb in the 1930s at the Belcher site in Caddo Parish. The Williamson Museum at Northwestern State acquired the pot and other Caddo pottery in the 1960s and plans to return the original pottery to the Caddo Nation in the near future. The Caddo allowed Desselles to make a replica of the pot.

“It is amazing how good the replica is,” said Desselles. “You can see the cracks and crevasses that exist in the original. This replica is something that one can look at without worry about damaging an antiquity.”