HVA Students Tour 3D Printing FacilityPosted by Josh Flory on 10/3/2018
Students from Hardin Valley Academy got an up-close look at a high-tech manufacturing facility on Wednesday, but they didn’t go far to see it.
A group of HVA students toured Local Motors, whose state-of-the-art “microfactory” is home to the world’s largest 3D printer, and is located less than three miles from the high school’s campus.
Sponsored by the Knoxville Chamber, the tour was part of a broader push to raise awareness among students about career opportunities in industries with strong momentum in East Tennessee, including those related to composite materials such as carbon fiber.
Arizona-based Local Motors is nationally known for its efforts to radically streamline the manufacturing process, using techniques such as 3D printing with composite materials and strategies including “co-creation”, in which the design process is crowd-sourced.
The results were on display at the Local Motors showroom on Valley Vista Road, including a chassis for OLLI, a co-created, self-driving mini-shuttle produced by the company, and a complete Rally Fighter, a co-created off-road vehicle that has been featured in movies including The Fate of the Furious.
Equally impressive, the HVA students got to see the factory in action. As they watched, a giant 3D printer -- officially known as a Big Area Additive Manufacturing system -- slowly extruded strings of composite material, a process that vaguely resembled caulk being squeezed from a giant caulk gun. Pressed together in layers, those strings can form a wide variety of machine parts and vehicle components.
Steven Anthony, a junior at Hardin Valley who attended the tour, said he was planning to be an electrical engineer, but an up-close look at the Local Motors operation had made a career in mechanical engineering more attractive.
“I found it very interesting how they are 3D printing cars now,” he said. “I did not know that was a thing. I have seen on YouTube about 3D printers printing little things, but this is a huge one.”
Anthony and his classmates are part of an Engineering Design class at HVA. Teacher Amber Collier said they’ve already started using SolidWorks, a computer-aided design program, and they’ll eventually have the opportunity to work with a small 3D printer at the school.
But the tour helps give a vision for how those skills might be used outside of the classroom.
“Being able to see it in the real world, actually being used to manufacture items, is just really beneficial for them,” Collier said. “To take it out of the classroom and say, ‘Oh yeah, this actually is happening. It’s not just my teacher making it up.’”
In the long run, economic development officials are hoping exposure to advanced manufacturing will not only motivate students to develop the kind of skills that will lead to jobs in that field, but will also foster the kind of workforce that makes East Tennessee attractive to good employers.
Doug Lawyer, vice president of economic development at the Knoxville Chamber, said advanced materials and composites are a strong growth sector for the region.
“We want the best and brightest to stay here and work in these great companies that continue to locate in our region,” Lawyer said.