3-D Printing: A Calculus Manifestion

Calculus 2 was the last class I expected to have a field trip for. I wasn’t surprised with our daily field studies in Squamish’s surroundings during Biodiversity of British Columbia, but calc 2 seemed like something that would only take place in front of a white board with calculators in hand.

A display of finished 3-D printed crystals
A display of finished 3-D printed crystals

As it turns out, 3-D printing, a rapidly growing industry, relies heavily on one of the key components of calculus: integration. 3-D printing basically works like this: a program will read an .STL file which is essentially a 3-dimensional model of the object being printed. The program will then chop the model into tiny, horizontal slices. These slices are then the layers that are printed one on top of the other until the completed 3-D figure emerges from the printer.

A 3-D printer in action
A 3-D printer doin’ its thing

The location we went to was a 3-D printer manufacturer in Vancouver called Tinkerine. The facility was full of models being created both for demonstration purposes and for quality tests. Seeing the process happen so smoothly and with the intense precision of a machine was marvelous; you would turn away from an object to talk to one of the employees, look back, and see that the object had taken on a completely new form in the matter of a few minutes.

 

A bunch of things printed at Tinkerine on display
A bunch of things printed at Tinkerine on display

It was amazing to see a physical application of calculus principles in action. Most things this type of math addresses things like population growth or the motion of objects which is great, but not always tangible. While not currently the most practical manner someone could create objects (the 6-inch tall statue of Carl Sagan I had printed took a little over 3 hours), it was still beautiful to see such an intricate process of creation take place. Isaac Newton would be proud.

The .stl file used to print Carl Sagan
The .stl file used to print Carl Sagan

 

Leave a Reply