WSU offers ‘cheapest 3D printing in Wichita’

Nathan Davis

A 3D printer at Ablah Library gives students the chance to make plastic objects at a much lower cost than other 3D printing outlets. 

“This is the cheapest 3D printing you can find in Wichita,” Mohammad Khaja Zeeshan Ali, a library technology employee seeking his master’s in computer networking, said. “The average cost of an item is only $5-$10.”

The printer has been available since last fall and averages about three prints a week, he said.

Ali said students have used the printer to help create projects for engineering classes, and the number of printing jobs skyrocketed toward the end of the semester. 

“Usually you see things like action figures at the store for prices that are very costly,” said Achin Sharma, a library technology employee who is pursuing his master’s in computer science. 

An object such as a small Statue of Liberty costs $2.40 to print.

3D printing is a recent technological advancement and a growing enterprise. It uses an intricate and time-consuming process involving molten plastic to craft objects the user of the printer specifies or creates, Sharma said. Objects are first uploaded to a computer, which creates a virtual 3D projection of the object, and then sent to the printer itself. An object called an “extruder” moves up-and-down and side-to-side while squirting small amounts of molten plastic layered upon one another. It then dries to create the final object. 

Color is not painted onto the objects, Ali said. Instead, the plastic congeals into certain colors depending on the temperature it was extruded at. 

The printer had a cost of around $1,500 — a cost that many students might find out of their price range.

The printer can create anything from a drone to small household trinkets, a miniature Statue of Liberty or Taj Mahal, or action figurines, Ali and Sharma said. The price is 20 cents per gram of plastic used. 

“The largest job we did for a student was a drone that was 10-by-10-inches, including the propellers, and it was a prototype for a project,” Ali. “That cost $60. The smallest job was a filter for engineering students about the size of a small clip or a shirt button. That cost 30 cents.” 

The printer is on the north end of the first floor of the Ablah Library in C-Space, where students and WSU employees can drop off their own printing jobs. Digital 3D files must be in .stl file format to be create, but tangible objects can also be scanned and replicated by the printer. 

Two plastics are available to use for students on campus: polylactic acid (PLA) and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS). ABS can withstand much higher temperatures up to 240 degrees and also has a greater tensile strength than PLA, which can withstand temperatures up to 110 degrees; it also costs the same, Ali said. 

There are six colors – black, blue, translucent blue, neon green, yellow, white — available to be used for the final objects created and two colors can be used per object. It can take even the smallest objects three hours to print. Students will be notified via email when their projects are complete.