Rapid prototyping is the process used in engineering to design and build a representative model to use in testing engineering components and systems. This is a key step in the "develop and prototype solutions" part of the engineering design process. The rapid prototyping process using Computer Aided Design (CAD) and 3D printing technology allows us to more quickly model components at relatively quick rate and at reduced cost as compared to classical engineering drawing and machine shop fabrication of components. This allows the rapid refinement of engineering designs in order to obtain and optimum solution.
Engineering students at A&M-Texarkana are able to experience the rapid prototyping process through the use of CAD software such as AutoCAD and Autodesk Inventor. Students learn to use AutoCAD primarily in 2D design for schematics, layouts and multi-view part drawing. Students use Autodesk Inventor in 3D part design of mechanical components. These part designs are then fabricated using 3D printers that use Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) which melts plastic filament to form the complete 3D parts.
In November 2019 the American Electric Power (AEP) Foundation gave a large grant to A&M-Texarkana to develop a CAD Lab for the purposes of using cutting edge technology in the instruction and fabrication of 2D and 3D designs and in the rapid prototyping of 3D printed parts. The lab contains state-of-the-art CAD design workstations that include, modular furniture, ergonomic chairs, curved monitors and upgraded servers. The room has also been outfitted for instruction with a combination of two projection screens and three extra large screen monitors so that students can see demonstrations from any point in the room. The room also contains 3D printers that are capable of utilizing a wide range of filaments for special design needs. The largest of the 3D printers has a build volume of 11.8 x 9.8 x 7.9 inches and will print in two colors using a dual extruder system.
The University is highly appreciative to the AEP Foundation and our local community in bringing such technology to our area. All of the CAD equipment supports the University's and AEP's initiative for community education and will serve as a lifelong learning tool for area schools and industries as well as supporting the University's growing Mechanical and Electrical Engineering programs.
Kenneth L. Irizarry is a lecturer of engineering at Texas A&M University-Texarkana.