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The Mines in the 3D printing era

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3D printers are now being used in research laboratories, as well as in class, and in workshops. And in the robotics club at the school...

3D printing, which is now revolutionizing production methods, and even the design of parts of all different shapes and sizes, has arrived with a bang at the Ecole des Mines. Lecturers, researchers and students are now using them, sometimes for practical training, in the department of automatic control and production systems or in certain research projects in the SUBATECH laboratory... They even have a role to play in clubs and organizations, in particular in the school's robotics club.

"By using 3D printing, we were able to make the prototype for a machine for rivet insertion in record time, for an industrial contract with Airbus, followed by a working model which has just been delivered, explains Mathieu Porez, head of the industrial automation and information technology option (AII). The project with Airbus is ongoing."

Lecturers are also using 3D printing in their classes and workshops. "The students are really interested in it, and it motivates them to make headway in their practical work", continues Mathieu Porez. In fact the number of students taking the industrial robotics option has grown from fifteen to thirty-one this year.    

 

"Mindblowing prospects"

 

It was also by using 3D printing that it was actually possible, in school, to make around fifteen plastic models of linear carriages as part of a practical work project in industrial IT. And this was done for only a few dozen Euro each, as opposed to about 2,500 Euros which you would pay on the market. "We were able to equip the whole practical training room, explains Vincent Lebastard, one of those responsible for practical training. This way the students get to work using state of the art tools which are more practice-oriented. And that in turn enables us to capitalise on the experience acquired."

Meanwhile the students have not been lagging behind: Yann Ravel-Sibillot, in the 2nd year, has a real passion for the subject and uses 3D printing at the robotics club which he restarted, and is chairman of. Interested in being able to make the parts he needed for model making, he did not wait to qualify as an engineer before getting involved. After his undergraduate studies, he designed and built his own 3D printing machine.

"I began by building a quadcopter using the materials I had to hand, based on models I found on the internet", he explains. Then he managed to find some plans that were "open source", as well as some software from the RepRap community, which calculates the path of the printing head.  Keen to perfect his machine, he even made a special piece, to protect the propeller in case of impact. The filament used for printing can contain carbon, which improves its resistance.

"3D printers are widely used nowadays. You can get them at very low prices. And the prospects are mindblowing, he said enthusiastically. Nasa is working on printing buildings to put on the moon, and Mars, in preparation for people living there. While the American army is working on partial printing of a robot, to make specialised robots . This is really just the beginning."

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