Merced College to offer 3-D printing class

dyawger@mercedsunstar.comJuly 8, 2013 

Three-dimensional printing is a rapidly emerging field with growing commercial demand, and Merced College is offering a course to teach computer-literate students the nuances of this high-tech pursuit.

Professor James Thornburgh will be offering the 3-D printing class in the fall. It's formally titled Intro- duction to Parametric Modeling, DRFT-4C, and students will be able to use the college's 3-D printers.

"These printers can be used to create a physical model from any solid modeling program," Thornburgh said. "Our program gives students an understanding of rapid prototyping and its use in industry."

Merced High School drafting instructor Tom Post lauds Thornburgh's efforts to develop the 3-D instructional program. Post's drafting class is the only one in the Merced Union High School District.

Three-dimensional printing is "fairly new technology," Post said. "It's very impressive what they're doing. They (students) can produce a product they can visualize."

Thornburgh said to print one's own designs, students need to have an understanding of computer-aided drafting. He said the college's drafting programs teach students to use current computer-aided design programs to create mechanical or commercial components, or buildings.

Concept to prototype

Upon completing the program, students will be able to take a project from concept to prototype.

"Several career fields are open to drafting students," Thornburgh said. "Students completing an associate of arts degree or certificate of completion can be employed in various businesses as a drafting technician, CAD operator, engineering assistant-technician or home designer."

Many courses use exercises that students will likely encounter upon entering the work force, Thornburgh said.

Post said his school probably will be getting a new 3-D printer next year. He teaches one period of drafting to about 20 students and hopes to take the students on field trips to the college to see the new technology in action. He also would like to get local industries involved in the drafting program.

Thornburgh said the 3-D printing class has space for 24 students, but there have been only three to five graduates a year from the program.

He said a lack of knowledge by the public about what is covered in the drafting program has contributed to a decline in program enrollment.

Thornburgh said the college's program includes how to use several CAD programs, product design and digital fabrication as well as tools that allow students to create models and prototypes.

Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dyawger@mercedsunstar.com.

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