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Posted on Jun 4, 2014

A Makers’ Place

MakerFaire, the nationwide network of do-it-yourself showcases, is a celebration of all things made. And NC State is the university where ideas become reality.

The two come together this weekend at Maker Faire North Carolina, which will bring 10,000 thinkers and doers to the North Carolina State Fairgrounds.

Among them will be a group of NC State students and recent graduates who’ve turned plywood, simple circuits and plastic into tools for creation, expression and personal safety.

Two recent grads — Austin Carpenter and Jonathan Gregory — will showcase their 3D scanner at the Maker Faire. The project, spurred by a request from the leaders of the Makerspace at Hunt Library, exposed the pair to a process they’ll likely repeat in their engineering careers. They spent the first semester of the 2013-2014 school year designing the scanner, a trial-and-error effort that saw them abandon designs for being too big or otherwise impractical.

In the spring, they connected with a team of industrial design students who built the scanner based on their specifications. Constructed of tile and plywood, the scanner looks a bit like the teleportation system from the old Star Trek television show. A person stands on a rotating platform as the scanner takes continuous photos. The 90-second scan — about two rotations long — produces a file that a 3D printer can read and turn into an action figure.

What can you do with a 3D scanner? According to Carpenter, one emerging application of the technology is in medicine: 3D scans are being used to print casts that conform precisely to a broken limb and use ultrasound technology to spur bone growth.

But utility wasn’t the primary reason Carpenter and Gregory chose to build the scanner.

“It’s cutting-edge,” Carpenter said. “Ten years ago, this wasn’t really a thing.  So it’s just really exciting to be on the cutting edge of technology.”

Emergency Assistance, at the Push of a Button

Student Bradford Ingersoll (left) and recent grad Tia Simpson (right) show off the Konnect, a one-button emergency notification system they built.

Student Bradford Ingersoll (left) and recent grad Tia Simpson (right) show off the Konnect, a one-button emergency notification system they built.

In an emergency, even a quick phone call or text message may take too long. That’s why recent electrical engineering graduate Tia Simpson and rising electrical and computer engineering senior Bradford Ingersoll have developed a wearable system that enables emergency notification at the push of a button.

At Maker Faire North Carolina, Simpson and Ingersoll will demonstrate the Konnect, a Bluetooth-enabled simple circuit that triggers a text message with a user’s GPS coordinates.

Simpson and Ingersoll worked through several iterations of the Konnect in the Entrepreneurship Initiative Garage on NC State’s Centennial Campus. They considered building a version that used voice-recognition software to identify a user in distress, but they dismissed it as impractical because of power and reliability concerns.

But the wearable concept they came up with has tested well and has drawn positive feedback from judges in campus entrepreneurship contests, Simpson said. The current Konnect prototype houses the circuit inside a plastic bracelet, but the system’s size — a little bigger than a watch battery — would make a wristwatch or other accessory a possibility.

Message in a Bracelet

Kyle McKenzie and Corey Meade's 3D-printed audio bracelet.

Kyle McKenzie and Corey Meade’s 3D-printed audio bracelet.

New grads Corey Meade (computer engineering) and Kyle McKenzie’s (electrical engineering) Maker Faire project came from the unlikely intersection of two trends: the emergence of 3D printing and the popularity of Silly Bandz, the bracelets children compulsively exchange at school.

For their senior engineering design studio, Meade and McKenzie sought to make a tradable 3D-printed bracelet that communicates. Meade developed a Web app that converts audio data — words spoken into a microphone — into a file readable by a 3D printer. The printed bracelet, which looks like a QR code come to life, can then be read, decoding the original spoken message.

Meade and McKenzie envision Web and smartphone apps that would let kids encode messages in plastic, print them and trade them with friends. They’ve experimented with different types of plastic for the bracelet itself and have applied for a provisional patent for their work.

“We hope there’s a future for it,” McKenzie says. “We’re not sure if there’s a market right now because the printers aren’t available everywhere. But there are some professors we’ve shown this to who said, ‘My kids would totally take this to school, and all their friends would be super-excited about it.’”

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Posted on May 30, 2014

A Sustainable Solution

In the developing world, the absence of affordable sanitary pads is more than a health and hygiene issue — it’s an economic and educational problem, too.

The solution to that problem is a cheap, sustainable, locally sourced sanitary pad. Researchers at NC State and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, working with nonprofit partner Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE), developed such a solution for deployment in Rwanda.

But Raleigh and Cambridge are a long way from the Rwandan capital of Kigali. It took a particular set of skills to cover the distance between success in the lab and results in the field, skills that 32-year-old NC State junior Tyson Huffman acquired as a Marine, a construction worker, a farmer, a restaurant manager and a process engineer for a paper mill.

“He’s a prototypical example of ‘think and do.’” — Med Byrd, NC State paper scientist, on Tyson Huffman.

For most of the last year, Huffman has been in Kigali, leading the effort to build a facility that can manufacture 1,000 sanitary pads a day.
“This guy went over there and did what I don’t think any faculty member or any student could have done,” said Med Byrd, associate professor of paper science and engineering at NC State. “In the space of about three months, with no tools, he took them from two machines in the middle of a parking lot to a dedicated crew making fluff pulp.”

That pulp is the heart of the project. In 2009, SHE founder Elizabeth Sharpf and a group of MIT students set out to find a sustainable, inexpensive way to make sanitary pads from agricultural byproducts local to Rwanda. They developed a two-step process for turning banana fibers and water into a fluffy pulp and making pads from that pulp. The chemical-free material is more absorbent than anything commercially available, Byrd said.

SHE turned to NC State to take the project from the research lab to the real world. Textile and biomedical engineering professor/director of Global Health Initiatives in the Office of International Affairs Marian McCord, Byrd and others refined the process and then sought someone who could go to Rwanda in 2013 and scale the project up. Several recent chemical engineering graduates applied, but none of them had Huffman’s unique skills.

“He’s a prototypical example of ‘think and do,’” Byrd said.

Huffman has served as a “MacGyver-in-residence,” said Connie Lewin, director of marketing and strategic partnerships for SHE. When the disappearance of Huffman’s luggage on the way to Rwanda deprived the project of needed washers, he replaced them with bottle caps. He designed a process that sped fluff-drying time by 400 percent and worked with his team to build a system for recycling wastewater.

“He’s creating new tools and spending time with our staff there so when he leaves they’re fully equipped and empowered to run the production facility on their own,” Lewin said.

NC State junior Tyson Huffman (right) and a team member repair equipment at a facility producing sanitary pads in Rwanda.

NC State junior Tyson Huffman (right) and a team member repair equipment at a facility producing sanitary pads in Rwanda. (Photo by Huffman)

Eventually, SHE plans to manufacture 250,000 pads a year and distribute them cheaply to local schools, Lewin said. That could be a game-changer for Rwandan girls and women. On average, a Rwandan woman loses $215 in annual income due to work days missed during menstruation, according to SHE estimates. The average Rwandan earns $578 a year, according to the United Nations.

Success would also create economic prosperity in Kigali. Huffman manages a team of 12 Rwanda employees, and they’ll continue producing pads after he leaves. The potential for a lasting, sustainable impact drew Huffman to the SHE project.

“The word ‘sustainable’ has become a buzzword and is thrown around too loosely,” he said. “I don’t really believe in charity. Throwing money at a problem is certainly not sustainable. However, creating a business employing local people, using agricultural waste and breaking even is the definition of sustainable.”

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Posted on May 2, 2014

Fashioning Solutions

High design meets high-tech tools and heavy-duty materials at Art2Wear, an annual fashion showcase for NC State design and textiles students.

In this year’s collections, 3D printers, laminate flooring components and automotive primer took their place alongside sewing machines, needle and thread, and dyes.

Senior art + design major Gillian Paige’s collection utilized nontraditional materials and unusual modes of manufacturing. When she started working on the first dress in her collection, she incorporated a foam typically used as a sublayer beneath laminate flooring.

“The guys at Home Depot gave me a funny look when I picked it up and told them what I was using it for,” Paige said.

The foam was too thick and heavy to sew through, but she found another place for it elsewhere in her collection. The lessons of that first piece informed her subsequent efforts. Seeking a similar effect for a jacket, she replaced the foam with pellon, a lighter polyester material used in quilting.

Paige turned to a cutting-edge tool to make necklaces and bracelets for her runway models to wear: the 3D printer in the Makerspace at Hunt Library. She worked with fellow art + design student Andrea Danchi and industrial design student Will Marrs to create digital versions of her jewelry for the printer to use.

Once the printer had created her jewelry, painting and sizing it posed a challenge, but Paige came up with a solution: She used the aforementioned automotive primer and metallic paint to put a chrome finish on the plastic pieces.

“I was amazed I was able to have jewelry after one day from the 3D printer,” Paige said. “I think they turned out really amazing.”

A 3D-printed bracelet designed by Gillian Paige

A 3D-printed bracelet, designed by Gillian Paige.

The same bracelet, after priming and painting.

The same bracelet, after priming and painting.

Science meets fashion

Senior Sarah Cannon is equally immersed in both art and science. Some of the funding for her Art2Wear collection came from a National Science Foundation grant that’s also supporting research in chemical and biomolecular engineering.

The engineering side of that project focuses on creating two-dimensional materials that fold themselves into three-dimensional shapes when they’re exposed to heat and light. Folding was a major theme of Cannon’s collection.

“I was trying to figure out a way that these materials could fold around themselves on top of the human body and have their own self-movement,” Cannon said.

As an Anni Albers Scholar, Cannon is working toward two degrees, one in art + design and one in textile technology. Shuttling back and forth between studio-based courses at the College of Design and research labs at the College of Textiles has given her a unique perspective on the relationship between materials and fashion.

“I’m learning how to design textiles, how to knit and weave them,” she said. “And in my studio-based design courses, I’m using them to bring my (fashion) ideas to life.”

Student designer Sarah Cannon (left) and faculty advisor Justin LeBlanc (center) inspect a dress at Art2Wear.

Student designer Sarah Cannon (left) and assistant design professor Justin LeBlanc inspect a dress at Art2Wear.

The couture and craftsmanship evident in this year’s collections present a sharp contrast with Art2Wear’s early years, said faculty advisor Katherine DiuGiud. Now an assistant professor of art + design, DiuGiud was a design student and Art2Wear participant in the mid-2000s. She remembers seeing dresses held together with staples back in those days.

The artistic and technological advances made in students’ collections since then are a reflection of NC State’s focus on experiential education, Paige said.

“The College of Design always pushes us to find new ways of doing things, to look for new materials,” she said.

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