Tennessee Technology University And The Business Of Making 3D Practical


Finding a college or university that is entrepreneurial is not an easy task. Some will speak about it or create a course with the term embedded in it. Some schools like to grab hold of the buzzwords, but Tennessee Technological University (TTU) in Cookeville is doing something daily to inspire makers, build makerspaces, and enable local entrepreneurs: Putting machines and equipment into their hands.  

As I wrote in last week’s post about the STEAM Junction makerspace in Burlington (link at end), it is clear that a wide variety of people believe in the value of making. I used to think it was just a re-do of the days of old when we had woodshop, metalshop, autoshop, a mix of art classes, but TTU is demonstrating it is far more than that.

2016-07-08 _TTU _Fidan (17)

In just a few short hours, the Department of Manufacturing and Engineering Technology team, thanks to Dr. Ismail Fidan (right in image above) who invited me to visit, took me on a tour of a variety of spaces and efforts underway at the University. Here is a short list:

  • TTU has a Maker Space called the “iMakerSpace” and was created as a University-wide center (located in the library) under the leadership of the Colleges of Engineering and Business. The iMakerSpace serves as a focal point on campus to provide training, service, partnership, research and evaluation in Innovation and Entrepreneurship to all disciplines.

The space houses a work in progress that I found impressive: A 3D Printing Vending Machine. Upload your file with your student identification card, wait til you get notified that the print is complete, then come pick it up. A robotic arm and conveyor belt system goes and gently gets your object for delivery. I stood there gaping at it and never even took a photo! Here’s the poster-board description of it, for now.

2016-07-08 _TTU _Fidan (12) v2

The University has even invested in a foundry — yes, a metal-melting facility. While visiting, I met public high school teacher Jay Watson, who is at TTU for the summer on the Research Opportunities for Teachers program (funded by a National Science Foundation grant under the Engineering program) to study 21st century advanced manufacturing applications with a traditional casting process. If you are wondering if manufacturing has a future, look to TTU for some great ideas. You can keep up with what Jay is doing to merge his summer research project with his full time job of teaching high school students on Twitter or his website: Mr. Watson.

  • 3D Printing Labs (I visited two while I was on campus). It was in one of these labs where I set up the HP Sprout and we did some scanning. No shortage of enthusiasm from those present. Dr. Fidan, Jay Watson, and I scanned this interesting looking creature that someone had 3D printed.

3D Scan w Fidan and Watson

If you have built something within one of the 3D printing labs, or the iMakerspace, or perhaps the Foundry, the school has additional resources to help you think about the business side of things, too.

  • The Biz Foundry is a business accelerator (not within engineering department) of the Upper Cumberland Entrepreneurial Foundation, one of nine in the state partnered with an organization called LaunchTN.
  • The school also was selected by the National Science foundation (NSF) to provide Tennessee’s first implementation of an I-Corps Site. The I-Corps Site’s purpose is to foster innovation among students and faculty, promote collaboration with regional partners and linkages in the innovation ecosystem, as well as develop a National Innovation Network.

Like many locations I visit, I show up to listen and talk about 3D tech. I brought the HP Sprout with me because, well, sometimes you just want to hang out with people and share the stuff you enjoy. I knew it was a like-minded group.

I use the hashtag #GoMakeThings but there’s no need to tell anyone at the Tennessee Technological University to do that — they already are, in a big way. And in the process of “making things” or exploring how they are made, they are inspiring students and local entrepreneurs to forget the buzzwords and make something of long-lasting value: an inventor’s spirit and mindset.


Disclosure: HP is a long-time client, having partly sponsored my national 3DRV roadtrip, and contracting me to do research and work on the Sprout. They have loaned me the HP Sprout Pro for part of this project.

I am wrapping up my HP Sprout project, but if you are interested to check out the system, here a a few links and resources:

How The HP Sprout Adds Steam To STEAM Junction Makerspace


In Category: #GoMakeThings, 3D Printing, 3D Scanning, STEM


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