SIOUX CITY | Who knew that the fast-paced world of 3D printing could be so excruciatingly slow?
That's what Juan Arreola, a 2017 East High School graduate, discovered during a weeklong 3D printing workshop held at Morningside College.
"Yeah, we spend a lot of our time starting and stopping and waiting," Arreola said while pliable loops were being printed in a nearby machine. "It can get frustrating at times."
Along with lab partner Tyler Nelson, Arreola has been tasked with creating a miniature roller coaster made completely with material engineered and created with a 3D printer.
"Each 3D loop of the roller coaster will be connected together with a 3D clip," said Nelson, a Bishop Heelan Catholic High School sophomore. If done correctly, a marble will be able to roll down the loop.
That is, if the loops aren't too narrow and if the clips don't come undone.
"There's a lot of trial and error as well as plenty of troubleshooting that will go into creating the roller coaster," Morningside assistant physics professor Laura Kinnaman said. "But, hopefully, it will also be fun."
The technology of 3D printing is, by no means, new. It's been around since the mid-1980s. However, advances in technology have made the process more accessible.
So, how can a printer that looks like a typical office photocopier create solid objects?
Well, it all starts with a concept. The first step is laying out an original idea with a computer-aided design (CAD) program or through some animation modeling software.
Essentially, you're creating a virtual blueprint of the object you want to print. Once a finished design is sent to a 3D printer, you can choose specific material -- like plastic, rubber or polyurethane -- that will become the basis of your completed object.
In the case of Arreola's design, each loop of his roller coaster will take an hour to complete and every clip will require around 30 minutes.
"I don't mind waiting," he said. "It will be cool to see if (the roller coaster) will work."
Already adept with CAD, Arreola became interested in engineering in an unusual way.
"When I was a kid, I liked math and I loved building things out of LEGO," he remembered. "That helped a lot."
Indeed, Arreola wants to pursue engineering when he starts classes at Iowa State University in 2018.
Likewise, Nelson wants to study chemical engineering when he goes off to college. However, he never played with LEGO.
"Nah, I am more into video games," he said.
Kinnaman said both of her students will find value in learning about 3D printing.
"It's clear that 3D printing has the potential to transform several industries," she said. "I can see how it can be especially useful in the health field."
As Kinnaman watches the 3D printer make passes over a platform, layers upon layers of material are deposited as a finished product is completed.
"Once you think about it, going from a concept to a prototype in a matter of hours is quite remarkable," she said. "Being able to troubleshoot and perfect a product as you go will be a real time-saver."
Which may seem ironic as Kinnaman and her crew stand around a 3D printer, waiting for parts to be completed.
"Being patient is a good thing when you're dealing with 3D printing," she said.