Student Brings Campus Affordable 3D Printing

Nicholas Bira is a junior Bioengineering student at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Bira headed the “Print Anything at Mizzou” initiative that provides students, faculty and staff with access to affordable 3D printing.

For the Love of Making

When passion and initiative align, good things happen. Just ask Nicholas Bira, a junior at the University of Missouri-Columbia, who recently headed the creation of “Print Anything at Mizzou.” The program is funded by the IIF (Interdisciplinary Innovations Fund) and brings Mizzou students affordable access to 3D printing. “When I was a freshman at Mizzou, I had heard of 3D printing and thought it was cool, but had never encountered it,” explains Bira. “I’ve always been a fan of making things – legos were a childhood favorite of mine, and I did a fair amount of sculpting in high school. So, when I realized that Mizzou had a 3D printing club, I had to join. That’s when I started learning more about 3D printing and modeling. I hadn’t had experience with it until then.”

It didn’t take long for Bira to take to 3D printing. “Having this medium to work with – this tool of modeling and printing – just felt right for me,” says Bira. “It fit really well with the things I enjoy doing. It was a freeing tool that allows me to make what I want to make. It is a great way to express some of my creativity through real-world creation. I’ve created 3D scans of some family members, and even made 3D-printed wedding toppers of my brother and his fiancée.”

Philanthropic 3D Printing

Bira’s creations go beyond scans and hobby and art prints. Recently, he got involved in e-Nable, and used his knowledge and 3D printing skills to provide a prosthetic arm to a boy in Columbia, Missouri. Bira explains, “e-Nable provides some great files for people who want to help make these prosthetic arms. The boy I was working with, however, was missing most of his arm, which the e-Nable file I used didn’t account for. I ended up creating an arm cuff from scratch using a scan of the boys arm.”

The philanthropic actions don’t stop there. “Next year, I want to do research on campus involving 3D printing for shoe adapters,” Bira states. “Many people have legs that are different lengths, or have an asymmetrical stride due to some medical reason. Adapters can be very helpful for them and can limit the additional wear-and-tear they experience due to their impaired stride.”

Bringing 3D Printing to the Masses

Photo courtesy of Print Anything at Mizzou website.
Photo courtesy of Print Anything at Mizzou.

Since Bira has seen the benefits of 3D printing first-hand, he wanted to bring it to the students at the University. “Print Anything at Mizzou started because I noticed a gap in the availability of 3D printing to students,” Bira shares. The 3D printing club offers 3D printing services for students, but the only way you can print is if you’re in the club and willing to submit your files to the President or VP, who print it for you.”

“It was odd to me that such a large campus didn’t offer more convenient 3D printing to its students. Additionally, it sometimes would take a while to get things printed, and I thought to myself, ‘I don’t have a month to wait for a piece…I need it in a week.’ That’s how I thought to start Print Anything at Mizzou. I collaborated with the staff that runs the professional 3D printing lab (available only to engineering students for a significant fee and with permission) and presented my idea to a board of IT members at Mizzou. They granted money to get the printers and fund the program for a year.”

Now that Print Anything MU is up and running, they are working toward optimizing their print pricing. “We aren’t really trying to make a profit… just provide a service. However, we do need to create enough income to re-invest in the project,” clarifies Bira. “Right now, most prints are just $5. We’re re-figuring ways to calculate the cost of prints, but I want to make sure this remains affordable, because I believe 3D printing is a very valuable and beneficial service for students.”

Research, Ratios, and Recommendations

“When it came to choosing the printers, I worked with the head of the 3D printing lab and the 3D printing club, and we did our research and discussed it for a long time. We needed something inexpensive enough to justify buying it for all students to use, while still requiring good enough quality that the prints would be worth buying. After looking around, we found Afinia. We compared it to some other big names, and it was substantially lower in cost while comparable in quality. We couldn’t say no to that cost to quality ratio. I had also heard great reviews from Greg Emanuel, the manager of the Engineering Laboratory, who had experience with an Afinia 3D printer.”

3D Printing: From Trinkets to Tech

Earth's Gravitational Field, courtesy of Print Anything at Mizzou website.
Earth’s Gravitational Field, courtesy of Print Anything at Mizzou.

“The usage the 3D printers get is interesting. People request to do anything from trinkets and doo-dads to prints that have scientific applications. For example, we’ve printed Pokémon, but we’ve also printed a representation of earth’s gravitational field.”

“I personally love to see 3D printing used for academic applications, and hope to see that aspect of it grow.”

Experimenting with Filament

“We’ve done some experimenting with the various filaments we have, and we’ve come to a couple conclusions. PLA is great for quick prints. We just cover the “perf” board with painter’s tape and print. It doesn’t require any preheating, and the clean up is a breeze. ABS filament is a bit more time consuming, but it is really strong, creates higher-quality prints, and is available in a wider range of colors.”

The Afinia Experience

“So far, our experience with the Afinia 3D printers has been very good. The people working at Print Anything MU have had plenty of experience with other big names in 3D printing, and they report that the Afinia printers are very reliable in comparison. I did end up using customer support once, and they were able to tell me what the issue was and send me a file to fix it. It was fixed within 20 minutes! Other brands are known for their lack of customer support… but I’ve had good experiences with Afinia’s.”

Bira adds, “something I really like about the Afinia is that a large number of pieces that make the printer work are 3D-printable, so it’s likely that if something breaks, instead of having to order a replacement part and wait on shipping, we can print it on our second printer and fix it ourselves.”