technology that has become popular in the nation’s leading hospitals and manufacturing companies is now being used at Center Grove High School so students can test out new inventions they come up with.

In the past year since Center Grove got 3-D printers, students have used them to make puzzle games, cellphone cases and pieces of a computer keyboard. Just this week, three seniors in an engineering, design and development class used the printer to test a new design for an ice scraper, and figured out it wouldn’t work.

Engineering teacher Courtney Rogge wanted her students to have visual and tangible proof of what they were creating on computers. Students start learning two- and three-dimensional design skills as freshmen or sophomores, but the computer design programs don’t allow students to test their designs in real life.

For example, a student could design a box with a certain number of pieces that fit inside. But if a student tried to make their design out of metal or plastic, not all of their pieces would fit within the box.

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Using a grant, Rogge purchased two 3-D printers, a reverse 3-D scanner and a machine that tests soil samples. Students use them weekly for classes in engineering and computer design, but Rogge wants more classes to make use of the technology.

Printing the students’ design can take up to 4 hours, depending on the size of the prototype, Rogge said. And it costs about $5 per cubic inch for each project made with the printer in order to refill the plastic needed to create the students’ designs, she said.

Rogge said many central Indiana schools are purchasing the devices so students can test out their engineering skills in a tangible way.

“They’re able to take whatever idea they have and watch it grow — literally,” Rogge said.

Now, her students can hold a prototype of what they’ve created, and see if it works in person as it was designed to on the computer.

This week, seniors Andy Miller, Sarah Rasche and Juhi Kekre wanted to create a better product to get ice off of their windshields. As part of a project for their engineering, design and development class, they looked into a few prototype options, such as creating a sheet with heat elements sewn in, or a window scraper that pushes a small stream of air under the ice to get it off quicker.

But Miller, Rasche and Kekre already know that the enhanced scraper idea will not work because they printed a prototype with the school’s 3-D printer. The air that should have lifted ice from the windshield did not make any difference in how long it took to get it off their car windows. Since their prototype did not work any better than a regular ice scraper, they started researching other ideas.

“Although it worked out mathematically and on paper, it didn’t seem to work as accurately in real life,” Miller said. “So we concluded that this is probably not a good idea to go with.”

Senior Connor Osborne will be making at least three prototypes with the 3-D printer, since his group’s first two models didn’t work. His group is trying to make a portable cellphone charger that people could rent by the hour in places like Greenwood Park Mall or Lucas Oil Stadium.

But with the first two models, Osborne’s group noticed a few errors in their original design. The charger would block the cellphone’s camera, so a person couldn’t use it while they were recharging the battery. In one prototype, the charger did not have enough space for the wiring, batteries or computer chips that the group wanted to install into each device, Osborne said.

And, since every brand of cellphone is a different size, the charger was too thick or wide to be used with all phones, Osborne said.

“You see it on the (computer) model, and you think, ‘Okay, I guess this all fits,’ but when you get it printed, you say ‘oh, that’s a lot smaller than I thought,’” Osborne said.

Rogge wants more classes to make use of the 3-D printer, she said.

Although her engineering students will use the devices every week, their peers likely don’t even know the school has 3-D printers, Rogge said. Students could practice their engineering skills by designing their own board game to be used in another course, like science, English or math, Rogge said.

How it works

Center Grove High School has 3-D printers that students can use to make their own games, cell phone cases or prototypes for new inventions. Here’s a look at how they work:

– Students scale out their 3-D model on a computer-aided design program, which lets them build in two- or three-dimensions.

– Students send their finished design to engineering teacher Courtney Rogge, and she sends it to the 3-D printer.

– A line of plastic is heated up, then forced out onto a mat to follow the student’s design.

– Each cubic inch of plastic used costs $5.

– The printing process can take as little as 30 minutes or up to 4 hours to complete a finished product, depending on the size and complexity of the design.