The lab encourages entrepreneurship and investment in Missouri and earns money for MU.

In the two years since the University of Missouri’s College of Engineering opened a three-dimensional (3D) printing facility, students and faculty from fields as diverse as paleontology, medicine and engineering have used the printers to prepare for complicated surgeries, model extinct crocodiles and build skills for future employment.

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Doctors in MU’s School of Medicine have been using the 3D printers to prepare for surgeries. For example, Craig Kuhns, a surgeon at the Missouri Orthopaedic Institute, prints 3D models of extreme deformities, such as abnormal curvatures of the spine.

“A tangible, 3Dimensional model helps me plan exactly where to place the screws and rods to straighten the spine, or determine which sections of malformed vertebrae I need to remove,” he said. “By holding the model in my hands and examining it, I also know exactly what the bone will look like in the operating room.”

Researchers also use the 3D printers to aid research and improve teaching. Casey Holliday, assistant professor of anatomy in the MU School of Medicine, uses rapid prototyping printers to quickly and inexpensively build replicas of fossils.

“A real Tyrannosaurus rex skull couldn’t fit in my office, but my one-sixth size, 3D printed T-rex skull fits nicely and accurately demonstrates dinosaur anatomy,” Holliday said. “3D printing allows scientists to make manageable models of gigantic objects and increase the size of tiny objects, such as the crocodile embryos I study. Soon, we will be printing a skull model of an extinct crocodilian I discovered, dubbed ‘the shieldcroc.’ Real fossils can be delicate and difficult to transport, but a computerized, printable image of a fossil can be inexpensively sent across the world in an instant.”

The 3D printers provide MU students with valuable experience both in and out of the classroom as they learn and apply 3D technology to their career fields.

“Having access to the University of Missouri’s Rapid Prototyping Lab and having attended the class taught on the same subject has enabled me to pursue my dream of being an inventor and entrepreneur,” said Alex Madinger, a recent MU engineering graduate. “I’ve used my skills to co-found a 3D Printing Club at Mizzou, creating a collaborative environment for students to explore the field further. I am now founding a company, Gauntlet Initiative, that uses this technology as the foundation for making functional, affordable prosthetic hands.”

MU’s 3D printing facility provides a valuable resource to doctors, businesses, researchers and students, yet drains none of Missouri’s tax revenue.

“Budgets are shrinking, but the 3D printing lab doesn’t have to worry about funding cuts because the machines pay for themselves via the fees MU receives when we do jobs for outside organizations and companies,” said Mike Klote, manager of MU’s 3D printing facility. “Our 3D printing lab exemplifies economic development. Students use what they learn in the lab to start companies or get great jobs. Then those alumni bring employment and investment back to Missouri.”