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UMC lecturer demonstrates emerging possibilities of 3-D printing

A sculpted Batman is made layer by layer using 3D printing technology. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald1 / 2
Jodi Dragseth, right, and her sons Noah, left, and Drew check out a 3D printer during a presentation at UMC Monday in Crookston, Minn. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald2 / 2

CROOKSTON, Minn. — From building small paper models to machine parts, clothes, prosthetic limbs or, possibly in the near future, human organs, the field of 3-D technology is developing, and a small audience at the University of Minnesota-Crookston got a glimpse of it Monday night.

Jeremy Leffelman, assistant director at the 360 Degrees Manufacturing and Applied Engineering Center of Excellence at Bemidji State University, lectured to an audience mostly of community members, demonstrated the printing technology and showed some small items made by 3-D printing.

“A lot of people think 3-D printers are a new technology,” Leffelman said, “but this was actually invented in the ’80s.” In 2007 it was made available for people outside the field of engineering, and it has gained traction in development, including for consumers, the past few years.

3-D printers build items layer by layer, some with layers thinner than a human hair. Materials used by the printers include paper, plastic and metal. Some developing levels of the technology could eventually build food or human organs with 3-D printing, Leffelman said.

Accessible tech

His presentation included several videos in which people showed how they used the technology. An artist used 3-D printing to make small sculptures and jewelry, and a fashion designer used it to make clothes and shoes.

One item Leffelman had was a small Batman figurine 3-D printed with layers of plastic.

The technology will be used many industries, such as medical, electronics and aerospace, but it is also becoming relatively inexpensive — with “entry-level printers” at $500 with software — and people are able to use it in their own homes or small businesses, Leffelman said.

Rachel Lundbohm, director of UMC’s Center for Rural Entrepreneurial Studies, said her department brought Leffelman to lecture because of the possibilities 3-D printing could offer to local entrepreneurs.

After learning more about 3-D printing, John Bridgeford, who owns a packaging company in Crookston, said the technology may be applicable to his business by printing the product-fitting foam packaging instead of having it cut from foam. And if he doesn’t use the technology in his own business, his clients, who are mostly manufacturers may eventually use it, he said.

UMC itself has requested funding for 3-D printing technology, said Jeff Sperling, campus information technology director, who also attended the presentation. The IT department has been looking for a use for the technology for a couple of years now, Sperling said, and it may be used by the math, science and technology department soon if funding is secured.

UMC’s lecture was the third that Leffelman had given on 3-D printing and the first away from Bemidji, he said. The same presentation will be made at Northland Community and Technical College’s Thief River Falls campus next Monday.

More On the Web: View one of the videos from Leffelman’s presentation here:

If you go:

What: 3-D printing technology lecture

When: May 5, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.

Where: Northland Community and Technical College, Thief River Falls campus

Charly Haley
Charly Haley covers city government for the Grand Forks Herald. As night reporter, she also has many general assignments. Before working at the Herald, she was a reporter at the Jamestown Sun and interned at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, Detroit Lakes Newspapers and the St. Cloud Times. Haley is a graduate of Minnesota State University Moorhead, and her hometown is Sartell, Minn.
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