As students crowded around him in the Franklin County Technical School assembly hall, Steven Longpre held up an intricately built birdhouse created using a 3D printer.
“3D printing is a new technology that gives us the ability to change the way we build things,” Longpre said. “This is a new tool that has become available in the last few years. It’s going to change a lot.’
Longpre, CEO of BarnStorm Studio, LLC in South Hadley, was at FCTS recently to demonstrate and talk about 3D printing. He brought three 3D printers to the school, along with objects including the birdhouse he was holding, a Star Wars-like toy light saber, cell phone case, prosthetic hand and various other items.
3D printing or additive manufacturing is a process of making three dimensional solid objects from a digital file. The creation of a 3D printed object is achieved using additive processes in which an object is created by laying down successive layers of material until the entire object is created. Each of these layers can be seen as a thinly sliced horizontal cross-section of the eventual object.
Most 3D printers create objects in plastic, while some use ceramic, metal or other materials.
3D printers, Longpre explained, are used in everything from making parts for the aerospace industry to building houses. He said they are as small and affordable as the ones he had on display or as big as the assembly hall they were standing in and worth millions of dollars.
“They are all going to come down in price in the next few decades,” Longpre said.
Most importantly, 3D printers are going to change the face of manufacturing, something relevant to the FCTS students.
“I was trying to convey that the students need to study this technology,” Longpre said following the demonstration. “A lot of people will lose their jobs because of this technology. We want to make sure the kids learn to adopt and adapt to it.”
Longpre came to FCTS at the behest of Programming and Web instructor Marcus McLaurin, whose shop recently bought a 3D printer. He met Longpre through artist and designer Lisa Hoag, who saw one of his 3D demonstrations. Hoag and McLaurin have also collaborated on projects for the school’s art club.
“This demonstration is an introduction to the importance of 3D printing to our future,” McLaurin said. “It will affect a lot of different industries and people don’t realize it.”
The school’s 3D printer is a Dremel Dream Builder. McLaurin said his shop will make objects like 3D game figures or characters designed by students.
“I’m looking forward to implementing our new 3D curricula,” he said. “There are so many Imagineering possibilities.”
The school was recently awarded a grant, in which approximately half of the money will be used to purchase another 3D printer.
Sam Scopa, a junior from Greenfield, said the 3D printer is “phenomenal and useful.” Lexi Bogusz, a freshman from Turners Falls, said the possibilities of what a 3D printer can create are “mind blowing.”
“I’d like to learn more about it, and the blueprints and data you can put into it,” she said. “You put data into it and it comes out with your design. It’s cool.”