What’s a 3D Printer and Why Does the Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship Have 48?

In 1986 Chuck Hull invented 3D printing. In doing so he had an immediate and significant impact on the world that he had not foreseen when he created a process for taking a 3D model and turning that digital file into a physical object. 

Hull’s invention concentrated solely on utilizing a fabrication process called Stereolithography (SLA). In the 34 years since his original breakthrough, other 3D printing technologies have been developed, although the one most commonly used is called Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)/Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF). In part this technology is most popular because it is cheaper and easier to implement than the alternatives.  Regardless of the differences between them, all of the technologies currently available rely on layer-by-layer fabrication and are based on a computer code fed to the printer.

At Montclair State University’s Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship, the leadership team and faculty have a powerful vision for encouraging innovation.

As such they recognized the nearly limitless possibilities for cutting-edge creativity and designs that can exist when enabled by a 3D printer.  And that is how the MIX Lab, an interdisciplinary hub for transformative innovation and digitally mediated making, was launched in August 2015 with 35 cloud-based 3D printing devices as a foundation.  

It makes sense that MIX is an acronym that stands for ‘Marketing and Innovation for X’ where X is the unknown. What that means is that X is always is just beyond our grasp – illusively driving us forward to solve big problems for the future with open-ended creativity and good design that is not anchored or trapped by any preconceived notions.  One of the most important traits that is cultivated among the students at the Center for Entrepreneurship is the drive for innovation and experimentation, for seizing on new, bold concepts, for taking a risk, and for being relentless in the pursuit of game changing ideas.    

Today the MIX Lab has grown to include an inventory of 48 3D printing devices housed all in one space specifically to build a model environment that encourages camaraderie and cooperation among the students as new initiatives are generated and new visions evolve. The MIX Lab is also known for its convenience. The students who are enrolled in a special certificate program consisting of three classes for a total of nine credits appreciate having access to the printers from early morning until late at night. And because of its generous open door policy, all students at the university are welcome, not only the students who are enrolled in the special program.

What is it like to work in the MIX Lab? What magic takes place in the confines of that room?

Well, just imagine that you have been given an assignment by MIX Lab Co-Directors Jason Frasca and Iain Kerr to design a bookcase using a 3D printer. That sounds relatively easy, but then they add some blockages to increase the level of difficulty and to make the project more challenging. So, for example, they tell you that there cannot be any right angles in the final design; nor can you use screws or nails as fasteners; and lastly, there cannot be any parallel shelves. Now it is not so easy to accomplish after all!  But after dozens of tweaks and iterations, you finally complete the assignment successfully. This only happens after you have stretched your imagination to the outer most limits, undergoing many stops and starts, and consulting with your fellow innovators. When you produce the finished product, it will be a functioning bookcase - but it is not likely to resemble any bookcase anyone has ever seen before! 

That is the power of 3D printing and that is why the Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship has invested in the MIX Lab.

3D printers enable the students to have the unique opportunity to take an idea from conception to reality, shaping the outcome and imagining products that may never have existed before. And along the way finding the answers to the world’s greatest puzzles.