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Bringing Competitive Excitement to Additive Manufacturing

By Meghan Shea-Keenan and Angela Marini Contributors
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Davis Turpen (left) and Briana Lundquist from Hastings (NE) Senior High School testing the prototype of their track piece fixture to see what adjustments are needed.

As the impact of additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, on business continues to surge, the need for career development in this rapidly growing industry is also rising. Four years ago, SME decided to collaborate with Stratasys, the 3D printing and additive manufacturing (AM) solutions company, on an initiative to attract students to the emerging tools and technologies involved in AM and 3D printing. After a number of discussions and months of planning, we developed the SkillsUSA Additive Manufacturing Competition to test high school and post-secondary students on their knowledge and skills in this space.

This contest is part of the SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference, an annual event that attracts thousands of students, teachers and business partners to participate in week-long activities to showcase the talents of America’s future skilled-trade workforce. This year’s national event was held in Louisville, KY, June 19–23. Over 6000 career and technical education students—all state contest winners—competed in 100 different hands-on trade, technical and leadership fields, highlighting capabilities in their respective fields.

Created by SME and co-sponsored with Stratasys, the Additive Manufacturing Competition challenges students to think beyond traditional manufacturing applications and gain hands-on experience with the latest 3D printing software and technology, including the new Stratasys F123 Series.

The contest has benefitted from steady growth over the past three years, with 34 teams—representing 26 states—competing in this year’s event. This competition highlights many of the benefits of AM as well as challenging students to expand their design capabilities.

The main design challenge for this year’s Additive Manufacturing Competition was centered on form, fit and function of end-use, or “production,” parts. On the first day of the contest, students were challenged to create a fixture that would attach to a ramp and move a marble from the ramp to a designated target. Competitors were given a block of time to design a prototype of their fixture. Restrictions were placed on print time, build envelope and material usage, giving the students a chance to face the same types of challenges they would encounter in the workforce.

On day two of the contest, the students were presented with 3D printed prototypes of their designs and given time to make design modifications before their final “production part” was printed. Many of the students found that what they believed to be a great design, in theory, did not live up to their expectations. They soon realized that their fixture may have taken too long to print, was not the correct size to fit onto the ramp, or did not have the correct tolerances needed for the 3D printers they were using.

Although the competition was designed to be fun, it was also supposed to emulate real-word situations. While designing a marble ramp might not be something a person would encounter in the workforce, the same principles of solving challenging design problems while maximizing budget—i.e., printing time and material usage—apply.

On day three of the contest, the students had to present all of their hard work to a panel of industry professionals, who served as judges for the competition. Once they left the contest space after their presentations, it was clear they had fun and learned new 3D printing skills, including having a better understanding of how this process is used in today’s work environment.

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James Bruce (left) and Mattias Anderson from Butte College (in white shirts) test their final design for judges Jesse Roitenberg,
Stratasys (left), and Bill Macy, Macy Consulting Inc.

Since the contest’s inception, students have demonstrated an impressive understanding not only of Stratasys 3D printing technology, but also how to leverage the technology to maximize their design capabilities.

In addition to the design challenge, contestants had a chance to take the SME Additive Manufacturing Fundamentals Certification Exam to test their knowledge. Taking this exam was a great opportunity for students to achieve the first step of stackable credentials. The new Additive Manufacturing Fundamentals Certification program is ideal for individuals who want to enter the manufacturing industry, or for those already employed as AM technicians who want to advance their career. High School CTE programs, community colleges, workforce boards and companies can all benefit from the assessment of the individuals going through their training programs. For the student population, this certification provides an industry credential that can differentiate them in the workforce.

SME also brought the Rippl3d Rocket Challenge to SkillsUSA to introduce many more students to the world of 3D printing technology and design through a fun, hands-on activity. As part of the rocket challenge, participants designed a rocket from 3D-printed parts using alternative tail fins, nose cone weight, launch angle and launch pressure to shoot a rocket into a target. Of the nearly 500 rockets launched, only 28 hit the bullseye, and seven of those rockets got a perfect score, meaning they were able to hit the bullseye four times in a row.

After a demanding three-day contest, we met with the students and their advisors to discuss their experience as participants in the contest. What we learned is that the passion for this technology is palpable. Their collective excitement makes it evident that as long as we continue to help students develop their talents, we will produce innovative thinkers who can move this industry forward.

We hope that, by supporting activities like the SkillsUSA Additive Manufacturing Competition, we will be able to spark further interest and passion in future manufacturers, designers and engineers.

Winners of this year’s SkillsUSA Additive Manufacturing Competition received prizes including scholarships from the SME Education Foundation, MakerBot Mini 3D printers, 3DConnexion SpacePilot Pro 3D Mice, Tooling U-SME registration, RAPID+TCT Conference passes, SolidWorks CAD software, and SME membership.

As preparations begin for the 2018 SkillsUSA Additive Manufacturing contest, officials reflect on the knowledge and creativity shown by students each year. It will be exciting to see how students participating in next year’s contest tackle yet another new challenge!

Congratulations to our gold medal winners of the 2017 SkillsUSA Additive Manufacturing Contest!

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