AUSTIN (KXAN) — A new kind of vending machine sits in the “T-Room” inside the Mechanical Engineering Building on the University of Texas campus. Instead of dispensing sodas and candy, this device is a teaching tool, intended to inspire every U.T. student to be innovative.
“This is really lowering the barriers to 3-D printing to students. If they have a U.T. identification card they can print out a part,” said Dr. Carolyn Seepersad, associate professor of mechanical engineering at U.T.’s Cockrell School of Engineering.
“The other thing we’re doing is by having this in a public space as a vending machine. We are hoping to build a community around the station,” Seepersad added.
Here’s how it works. Students can upload their own CAD designs to the 3D printer on a web portal. The work order is reviewed by an engineering student. Once the design is approved, student designers are notified via text that the printing has started. The machine then prints their creation.
By far the most popular printed items are those that include a Texas Longhorn insignia. But the possibilities are endless.
The vending machine promises to be a powerful teaching tool for mechanical engineering students Dr. Seepersad believes 3D printers will be ubiquitous in hardware stores and other retail outlets in the years ahead.
“For example, Invisalign braces are already being created using 3-D printer technology. Anything you’d like to print 1 or 2 or 5 or 10 of something, especially if you’d like to customize something. It’s very easy to do using this,” Seepersad added.
The University of Texas at Austin is one of just three college campuses in the nation with similar vending machines.