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An Interview with Dr. Christopher Williams, Virginia Tech
July 4, 2015
The use of 3D printing technology in higher education continues to amaze us. It seems like almost each week new products or techniques are being developed by college and universities for a variety of uses. We recently heard about the efforts of Dr. Christopher Williams who is an Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering & Department of Engineering Education as well as the W. S. “Pete” White Chair for Innovation in Engineering Education. Dr. Williams serves as the Associate Director, Macromolecules & Interfaces Institute, Virginia Tech and director of the Design, Research, and Education for Additive Manufacturing Systems (DREAMS) Lab. Recently a team of his students successfully created a developed an ant vehicle which can be used in disaster relief. Recently we had the chance to catch up with Dr. Williams to hear more about what he doing in the realm of additive manufacturing (AM) at VT. The interview was conducted via email and the transcript is below.
1) When was the DREAMS lab founded and why? How many total faculty work there and do you have any further support from graduate students?
2) When and how did you begin your research interests into Additive manufacturing?
3) What types of printers and filament are generally used as for your work with the DREAMS lab? Are they available for use by any student or staff member at VA Tech, or only those enrolled in your courses?
Since the DREAMS Lab is a research lab, its equipment is only used to support research. However, there are several other 3D Printers across campus that students have access to. For example, both our Frith Freshman Design Lab (https://www.facebook.com/frith.lab) and the Mechanical Engineering Senior Design lab have four uPrint SE Plus systems. In addition to these systems, we have created a 3D printing vending machine - the "DreamVendor"—that provides open (and free) access to 3D printing (https://vimeo.com/41774793). Students can walk up to the system with their STL on a SD card, load the file, and then walk away— the machine automatically prints and dispenses the part—and even texts the student when the job is finished.
4) Are the courses you teach designed for undergraduate students, graduate students or both?
In fact, in the next month, one of the student groups will be hitting Kickstarter to launch their product and new business! In addition to the class, we have integrated AM across the entire Engineering curriculum. Students are introduced to it in our first-year program, and many use it in their senior design projects.
Finally, we offer students across the campus to get involved with AM with our vending machine and via our annual AM Vehicle Design Competition, which asks students to design a fully functional remote-controlled vehicle that is made entirely by AM (https://vimeo.com/97526308). In addition to our VT students, we also reach out to the community via lab open houses and 3D Printing workshops. We also offer short-courses for practicing engineers to teach them about the capabilities of AM.
5) What are some of the short and long-term goals of the DREAMS Lab at VA Tech?