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The Rise of Rapid Prototyping in a Biomedical Engineering Design Sequence

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Design in BME

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Joe Tranquillo Bucknell University

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Dr. Joseph (Joe) Tranquillo is an Associate Professor at Bucknell University in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, He is also co-director of the Institute for Leadership in Technology and Management, co-director of the KEEN Winter Interdisciplinary Design Program, and chair of the Biomedical Engineering Division of ASEE. Tranquillo has published three undergraduate textbooks and numerous engineering education publications, and has presented internationally on engineering and education. His work has been featured on the Discovery Channel, CNN Heath and TEDx. He was a US Case Professor of the Year nominee and a National Academy of Engineering Frontiers of Engineering Education faculty member.

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Annmarie Mullen Bucknell University

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Annmarie is a senior biomedical engineering major at Bucknell University. She has been involved in various program on campus that aim to merge entrepreneurship and engineering including KEEN IDEAS courses, Bucknell Fabrication and Design (BFAB), KEEN Winter Disciplinary Design Experience, and the Bucknell Institute for Leadership in Technology and Management. Most recently, she has co-founded Bucknell's Chapter of EMpwr, a KEEN student lead organization focused on bringing the entrepreneurial mindset to engineering education.

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The advent of affordable and easy-to-use rapid prototyping has had major impacts on design pedagogy, most specifically in quickly creating and iterating upon functional prototypes. These trends can be most clearly seen at ASEE in the manufacturing division that has sponsored several Maker sessions with rapid prototyping as a center piece. On our own campus, we have seen the rise of a variety of Maker Spaces and a culture of making.

It is the aim of this study to explore the evolution of rapid prototyping in a biomedical engineering design sequence. Assignments throughout the curriculum, student capstone project reports (n=43), and interviews with faculty were used as primary data sources. A focus was placed on the year-long capstone design course where students design, build, test and evaluate a prototype to solve a problem they identify with a clinical advisor at Geisinger Health Center in Danville, PA. For each design report, teams received a ranking of rapid prototyping use on a four point scale. Rapid prototyping was defined broadly as any use of automated or computer controlled (3D printers, laser cutters, CNC) forms of prototyping. Traditional forms of manufacturing (e.g. lathe, drill press) were considered to be prototyping, but not rapid. A score of zero indicated that a group did not use any form of rapid prototyping throughout their process. Note that this score did not mean the group did not prototype, simple that it was not automated. A one indicated little use, most often to test a concept but parts were not ultimately used in their prototype. A score of two was given to groups that used rapid prototyping as a stepping stone to make their final prototype, such as a mold or a preliminary model. A score of three was for groups where any part of their final prototype was made using rapid prototyping. These data were tracked by year over the past decade. Of the 43 teams, 40% of the projects have had a rating of zero and 37% have had three, 14% have had one, and 9% have had two. However, if this is broken down to the years prior and the years after 2013, the trend changes dramatically. Prior to 2013, a majority of the projects, 54%, used no form of rapid prototyping. After 2013, 74% were heavily using these technologies with a rating of three.

In studying the potential causes of these changes, we identified four driving forces. First, rapid prototyping has come to dominate a pre-requisite manufacturing course, that previously focused only on traditional manufacturing techniques. Second, much more emphasis has been placed on early rapid prototyping and demonstration of product functionality in the senior capstone. Third, the availability of rapid prototyping technology on campus has increased. As an example, in 2007 there was one 3D printer in the department and only three on campus. Today, there are seven unique makerspaces around campus, all of which have multiple 3D printers. These same makerspaces have also made available resources such as laser cutters, vacuum formers and CNC routers that were not available to students until the 2012-2013 academic year. Fourth, a preliminary review of rapid prototyping at other institutions, through publications at ASEE, has shown a similar rise in the use of rapid prototyping in design courses.

Tranquillo, J., & Mullen, A. (2017, June), The Rise of Rapid Prototyping in a Biomedical Engineering Design Sequence Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--29000

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