Friday, November 02, 2012

UW engineering students - 3D printer for rural Mexico

Three UW undergraduate engineering students have devised a large-scale 3D printer that uses the high-density polyethylene (HDPE) in milk jugs. They can devise and make all sorts of things - from discarded milk jugs.

Amazing people. They are not typical undergrads. Matthew Rogge, after years working in the Peace Corps in third-world countries, saw an opportunity, but needed more technical education, so he went to UW he is 36.

Seattle Times

They've developed an inexpensive 3-D printer that can turn shredded, melted plastic waste into just about anything.

3-D printers have been around for at least 25 years, although they have become more widely available, better-known and cheaper in recent years. They use computer-aided design to create three-dimensional objects by laying down super-thin layers of a material, such as plastic, much like a regular printer lays down ink.

But until now, nobody had figured out how to cheaply build a large-scale printer that used recycled plastic as its raw material, said UW mechanical-engineering professor Mark Ganter.

"They're amazing students just to start with," he said of the team. "They have a very clear vision of how to marry 3-D printing into what could help a developing country."

The unlikely trio — in addition to Rogge, the team is made up of a former Japanese major and a blacksmith — are all pursuing undergraduate degrees in mechanical engineering. They'll use the $100,000 prize money to build low-cost 3-D printers that can make large objects, including composting toilets and rain-catchment systems, in the mountainous state of Oaxaca in southwestern Mexico, which has a large population of indigenous people.

"Not only are we addressing water and sanitation and economic needs, but we're reducing waste," Rogge said of their plans. "There's just so many good things about it."

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