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An Interview with Dr. Malcolm Cooke, Case Western Reserve University
July 7, 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 read about Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) and their think[box] facility), which has incorporated 3D printing into a larger concept of innovation, research, and product development. Malcolm Cooke, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Case Western Reserve University serves as the executive director of think[box]. We recently had the opportunity to speak with him to find out more about think[box] and everything they are doing for the campus and community at large. The interview was conducted via email and the transcript is below.
1) Can you provide a brief history of think[box]? How did you come up with the idea for this and what prompted you to start this space?
This vision was moved toward reality through the efforts of a group of faculty responding to the Provost Office’s call for interdisciplinary ideas based on thematic areas that represented university strengths. A consultant interviewed stakeholders throughout campus to identify synergistic focal points for think[box] efforts. The key was to think about collaborative activities in new disciplinary areas that had yet to come together. From the start, that vision was not limited to CWRU students or faculty alone, but rather a broader community stakeholder group that included other academic (including K-12), research and business institutions and leaders that could contribute.
2) Who are the people involved and what are their academic backgrounds?
Encouraging active involvement of alumni who were also passionate about this topic was key in the project’s development. Tapping individuals early to join in the development of the idea allows for a shared sense of commitment and buy-in. We were able to kick-start fundraising efforts more quickly because of this early involvement as well as tap into ideas that would not have been explored if additional great minds were not around the table. This included the identification of our permanent building?an idea from an alum who knew much about the history and physical layout of the campus infrastructure.
To introduce an idea that will impact the entire university community and beyond not only requires steep commitment from faculty, but also understanding and commitment from the administrative ecosystem of any university. From the President, Provost, Development Office to Corporate Relations, Foundation Relations, Media Relations, Government Relations, and Student Life, including the internal administrative ecosystem is critical.
3) It says on your website that you are in the process of building a new facility which will be one of the largest innovation centers in the world. Is this the same thing as a MakerBot Innovation Center?
Firstly, think[box] is far more than a “maker Space,” offering 3-D printing and other digital fabrication tools. Think[box] provides and supports a complete innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem for our community. Think[box] will begin moving into the Richey Mixon Building, a 50,000-square-foot, seven-floor facility in mid-July/August this year and be ready to open for business at the start of the fall semester. It will provide a distinct, on-campus environment where hands-on education, design and development and product commercialization can all take place, and where these activities can interact and cross-fertilize. More than a meeting place or world-class fabrication laboratory, it is home to educators, advisors, mentors and facilitators who can assist students and faculty into becoming tomorrow’s entrepreneurs and technology leaders.
Think[box] is a catalyst that is changing the social culture of Case Western Reserve and Northeast Ohio by encouraging cross-department and cross-institution collaborative endeavors that push creativity and innovation to their limits. By providing a place where members of the engineering, design, arts, science, medical and business communities can interact, we hope to overcome the intellectual and physical boundaries that often prevent the spread of ideas and limit cross-discipline innovation.
4) How many total units will you have when it is complete? What types (e.g. SLS, FFF/FDM, etc.) of 3-D printing will be available to your students?
However, to answer the question, all our current printers use Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) technology. Our production printers are Stratasys Fortus 250 and 400 machines, and we print in ABS, Polycarbonate, Nylon 12, and Ultem. We also have a couple of MakerBots that print in PLA and provide our users a first step in getting comfortable with the advantages and limitations of the technology. As we transition to our new building, we plan on purchasing a number of additional production printers to enable us to manufacture parts and assemblies in multi-colors and with a range of custom material properties.
5) What types of reactions have you had across campus since the temporary think[box] space got up and running?
6) In the slide deck available on your website, it indicated that think[box] played a role in the decision of just over a third of your new students in choosing CWRU. Do you believe that number will continue to go up for this next year?
7) What impact do you think it has had on the education of your students? Does it give your students a competitive edge over those from other schools?
8) What advice, if any, would you give to other professors/administrators who may be interested in beginning this type of endeavor on their campus?
9) What are some of the long-term goals of the think[box] at CWRU as it relates to both 3-D printing and education in general?
10) What are some of the products you have printed that you are most proud of? Has it incubated any current businesses/start-ups?
About Dr. Cooke
Malcolm Cooke has over twenty years of teaching experience in the areas of design, manufacturing and rapid prototyping. He received his Bachelor of Engineering (B. Eng.) degree from Coventry University, his Master of Science (M. Sc.) from Warwick Universtiy—both located in the United Kingdom —and his Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University. Previously responsible for the development of on-campus manufacturing laboratories, computer-aided-design studios and innovative engineering design and manufacturing curriculum, Dr. Cooke now serves as the executive director for think[box]. His research interests include integrating advanced design and rapid prototyping technologies to address the challenges of engineering bone tissue.