Printing with material: SPC teaches 3D printing

Story by Noah Lopez/COMM 2311

It’s not very big. It’s little more than an inch in diameter, and it feels weightless. In fact, it looks like a toy that might have come out of a cereal box. But it didn’t.

It’s boldly printed with the letters:  SPC CADD. And it took about an hour for it to come out of a South Plains College 3D printer.

It’s a calling card for SPC’s Computer Aided Drafting and Design program. 3D or three- dimensional printing is something students can learn how to do at SPC.

There are three 3D printers in the CADD department. Terry Stucker, the program coordinator of the drafting and design department, explains how the process works.

 “3D printing is a process of adding thin layers of material on top of each other,” he says, “using a computer to control the process until you end up with a three dimensional solid.”

Photo by Noah Lopez

According to the U.S. Department of Energy at, 3D printing is also known, in scientific terms, as additive manufacturing.  Back in 2017, the Department of Energy’s website said that because additive manufacturing reduces energy use and cuts waste and material costs, it was projected to be a “primary focus area” for the U.S. Department of Energy.

“It’s similar to how common desktop printers form images,” the site explains, “but instead of ink, 3D printers use a wide variety of materials ranging from polymer composites, metals and ceramics to food, foams, gels, and even living tissue.” 

The SPC CADD calling card is made from PLA. Stucker says that is a biodegradable polymer plastic.

Stucker is happy to offer a “show and tell” of many of the 3D printed objects on the shelves in his department.  All of them came from SPC’s 3D printers. These include a vase and many small figurines, several of them are intricate.

 SPC student Justin Knelsen, a second-year student majoring in computer aided drafting, is happy to show off his big 3D project as well.

He recently printed a boat.  “I have pictures of the original,” he says, “but right now it’s in Florida getting motors attached to it.”

 SPC supplied him with a grant, he says, and he entered the boat in a 3D project for a NASA competition.

 “So, we gave it a shot,” Knelsen says, “and we designed the egg boat.”

That “shot” proved successful.  Out of 20 or so teams from across the country, Knelsen’s team was one of three to advance to the next level.  He and his teammates will be testing the boat at the Johnson Space Center in June.

Knelsen says the boat was designed to bring supplies to astronauts in the water while they are in quarantine after returning from a space trip.

As he shows pictures of the boat, he explains the boat, now in Florida, has had a massive antenna attached to the top.  The early pictures he has shown a much smaller one.

Even without the massive antenna, Knelsen admits the boat may look futuristic in a way.  But there’s a reason for that.

 “Our thinking was we wanted to build a standard type of boat that was like any other boat,” he says.  “But since it’s gonna’ be in big waves, we decided to add training wheels to it.”

The “training wheels” are two pontoons built on each side to give it support. He says the finished boat is about 3 feet by 1 ½ feet by 1 foot. He created the blueprint for it.  And he printed it out, all except a few parts, on a 3D printer.

He had to print it out in multiple parts separately, he says, because it was too big. Then he attached them together.  

For about three years now, Stucker has been teaching 3D design at SPC. The designing or drawing happens before something is printed. Some of what he teaches includes parametric modeling and solid modeling. Those skills, he says, are in high demand in the job market.

Photo by Noah Lopez

Stucker says he often has people looking for students from his classes for jobs.

“I have people calling me all the time looking for draftsmen,” he says. 

For those who don’t know, according to the Encyclopedia Brittanica, “drafting” is also called engineering drawing.  It’s the “graphical representation” of structures that conveys the intent of the craftsman who makes a product.   

Knelsen explains his boat team has eight people on it from states all over the country. Each person has his or her own specialty such as engineering or electronics. Knelsen is the draftsman of the group.

According to Parametric Architecture’s website, 3D printing has a promising future. The website has much to say about 3D printing because, as it 

explains, “parametric design” in architecture is an algorithm-based design method.  

Construction and architecture, the company says, are two main areas where 3D printing is beneficial because both professions are so “wasteful.”

 “3D printing,” the company writes, “offers the potential to employ cleaner ways of making cement-based goods such as walls, often in significantly shorter durations than traditional building procedures.”

Stucker says the kind of 3D printers used in architecture are huge, crane-like structures. Here at SPC he sees architecture as being a big field for job opportunities for students.

 “You wouldn’t be considered a licensed architect once you’re out of here,” Stucker says, “but if you go through the associate’s program, you could be

Knelsen says he is not sure yet what he wants to do when he graduates.  “I want to get into some machine drawing,” he says.  “That or architecture.”

The SPC website says a degree in drafting and design from SPC prepares a person for a variety of careers such as architectural drafting, mechanical drafting, and civil engineering. Projects include designing buildings, creating technical drawings, and

To call 3D printing “additive manufacturing”, you are literally describing the process. It is adding layer upon layer of material, whatever the material is.

So, in a way, there’s a metaphor at work here.  

Justin Knelsen graduates in the fall.  He says he and his team found out they’d made it to NASA’s top three last October.  And if he had one word to describe his reaction, he says it would be “hyped”.  He says he was ready to “take on the world” after that.

He beamed with pride when he said he had a job interview last week.

Layer upon layer…with design, creativity, and know how.  

Sounds a lot like 3D printing.

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