Kennesaw State Professor-Student Team 3D-Prints A Cheaper, Portable Lab Kit

Engineering students at Kennesaw State University must interact with specific lab equipment to learn required concepts and models in their courses. However, this specific lab equipment is heavy, expensive, requires a lot of space and there’s often only one for many students to use.

KSU engineering student Michael Weitzel shares that he often had to wait two to three hours to use the lab equipment during class.

“In the majority of cases, students do not get a chance to spend enough time working hands-on due to the limited number of equipment available,” says Ayes Tekes, Ph.D., assistant professor of mechanical engineering.

Tekes, along with students Weitzel, Zach Marr and Julia Ortiz, began to work together to develop a series of low-cost, 3D printed take-home lab kits to engage more students at once. The team’s target budget — per kit — was $30 or less. 

“From the day I started teaching the concepts of vibrations and modeling mechanical systems, I noticed that the student’s ability to understand the  concepts could be improved immensely by demonstrating theories on small equipment,” says Tekes. 

“We wanted to design novel, compact, modular, low-cost vibratory mechanical systems that can illustrate the key physical behaviors of vibratory systems and their implementation to a course or lab.” And, they succeeded.

With these kits, Tekes wants to provide hands-on opportunities to every student, without waiting. She says that any broken pieces can easily be replaced in the lab with the 3D printer, in contrast with current equipment parts that cost several hundred dollars and take weeks to arrive. 

In April, the team presented their findings at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers 2018 Dynamic Systems and Control Conference following the completion of their final prototype. And KSU faculty would like to share the product with the rest of the academy world. Jonathan McMurry, associate vice president for research at KSU, says the school has filed a patent application for Dr. Tekes’ inventions and “are actively engaged in discussions with potential licensees to manufacture and distribute engineering education products using her technology.”

As they begin to speak with potential customers, Tekes is also working with Dr. Tris Utschig, an associate professor of nuclear engineering at KSU, to gather data around the usage of the 3D printed models and how much better students are learning, now that they have more readily-available lab equipment.

“As an instructor, I really enjoy carrying portable lab equipment into the classroom to give a quick demonstration on the topics I teach,” says Tekes. “I believe visualization at the moment you teach helps students understand complex systems. You have to strike when the iron is hot.”

Photos courtesy of David Caselli, Kennesaw State University