Posted on
Rohan Rashingkar | November 16, 2022

Have you ever wanted to transform an idea into a physical reality—but did not have a simple and efficient means of doing so? If so, 3D printing may just be for you.

How 3D printing works

The first step in 3D printing is CAD (computer-aided design). To begin, you must supply the 3D printer machine with a .STL or .AMF file. This file contains numerical values corresponding to the dimensions of the model you wish to print. The file can be produced by manually outlining a prototype in a CAD application, such as Fusion 360 or Onshape, or by selecting a premade design from an online CAD Library. 

After receiving the file, the 3D printer executes a slicing code which “slices” the model into thin vertical layers. In addition, the slicing code indicates where the printer should fill the interior of the product. In other words, it demarcates the location of internal lattice structures that reinforce the external design. 

Finally, the printer gets to work, continuously releasing heated plastic through the nozzle until the model comes to fruition. 

Real world applications

Although 3D printing may initially appear to be just a hobby, it has many powerful applications in the real world, such as in medicine. For example, biomedical engineers employ 3D printers to quickly produce low-cost, customizable prosthetics. Orthopedic surgeons utilize 3D-printed parts as implants during surgeries. Moreover, by replacing the conventional plastic with biological material, it is possible for 3D printers to construct organs and tissues. This process is known as bioprinting, and is currently undergoing pharmaceutical trials. 

Another important application of 3D printing is in transportation. 3D-printed parts are not only highly customizable and inexpensive but also lightweight, which improves fuel efficiency. Since 2018, Bugatti has 3D printed components such as metal mountain brackets, tailpipe covers, and wheel compressors for their supercars. The engine of the newest Boeing plane model, the 777X, also contains over 300 3D-printed pieces.

3D printing at Vanderbilt

There are many ways to become involved with 3D printing at Vanderbilt. In the Design Studio, located in Featheringill Hall, students can print their own designs under the guidance of a mentor. The student-led Digital Fabrication Makerspace in Olin Hall not only allows students to 3D print, but also provides training on how to do so. In the Wond’ry, students can enter the MakerSpace, following a one-hour-long mandatory safety training, and use its 3D printers. In addition, the Wond’ry regularly hosts social events catered to 3D printing. For instance, they held a 3D printed earrings workshop and a 3D printed silicon accessory workshop earlier in the year.

An Assortment of 3D Printed Pieces in the Design Studio

Several Vanderbilt research research labs also study 3D printing. For instance, The Multiscale Materials Performance Laboratory explores novel 3D printing materials and applications of 3D printing in infrastructure. 

Moreover, Vanderbilt offers 3D printing coursework. A first-year engineering module teaches the fundamentals of 3D printing. The digital fabrication minor allows students to learn the complete process of 3D manufacturing in greater depth. This interdisciplinary minor prepares students to design sophisticated CAD models, mechanically engineer parts with machines such as 3D printers and CNC mills, and program sensors with Python. 

So in the end, if you ever find yourself wondering how to bring your designs to life, remember that you have resources such as the Design Studio, Digital Fabrication Makerspace, Wond’ry Makerspace, and research labs at your disposal. All it takes is a quick visit to any of these facilities to finally see your creative vision become a reality.


.AMF file extension. 2022 Jul 28. AMF File Extension – What is an .amf file and how do I open

it? [accessed 2022 Nov 8].

Daley S. 3D printing. How Does 3D Printing Work? [accessed 2022 Nov 8].

Digital Fabrication Minor. Digital Fabrication @ Vanderbilt. [accessed 2022 Nov 8].

Digital Fabrication. Digital Fabrication @ Vanderbilt. [accessed 2022 Nov 8].

Events. The Wond’ry. [accessed 2022 Nov 8].

Molsheim. 2021 Jan 21. Bugatti Refines 3D Printing Perfection With Accuracy As Fine As 

0.1MM. Bugatti refines 3D printing perfection. [accessed 2022 Nov 8].

Pan Z. Example of a STL File Format and Its Model. ResearchGate. [accessed 2022 Nov 8].


V. C. 2020 Jan 29. Boeing 777X’s first flight with more than 300 3D printed parts. 3Dnatives. 

[accessed 2022 Nov 8].

What is 3D printing?t. 2022 May 31. 3D Printing. [accessed 2022 Nov 8].