Jackson, TN Keeps R&D Relevant
College students put research and development to the test with 3D printed medical devices.
Thanks to a collaboration between Jackson State Community College’s (JSCC) occupational therapy assistant program and theCO, the local entrepreneurial hub, students are using 21st-century technology to solve some age-old problems.
For many occupational therapy patients – the elderly or those with injuries or physical disabilities, for example – simple daily living skills such as eating a meal or brushing teeth can be a challenge. And while assistive devices can be purchased, they are often expensive.
In looking for ways to partner on a project, JSCC associate professor Gwen Foxx and Dan Drogosh, operations manager at theCO, thought they could help students help others – through 3D printing.
“A whole industry exists around assistive devices,â€ says Drogosh, who previously had no experience with that particular kind of product, but did have expertise in, and a passion for, 3D printing.
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Real-World Problem Solving
“We created an assignment, provided case studies and then challenged the students to create adaptive equipment that would assist the client from the case studies. These students knew nothing about 3D design when we started, and they accepted the challenge,â€ Drogosh says. “Schools have a hard time giving students projects that are relatable to the real world. But here, they could design a device that holds a fork more easily, or a toothbrush, making a better grip for someone.”
While not every device that came out of the course was a smashing success, many of the studentproduced innovations were impressive, Drogosh says, and the students’ interest levels have stayed high. The course, which has involved about 12 students each year, will be offered again during the 2019-2020 academic year.
Pathway to Entrepreneurship
In addition to introducing students to the possibilities of 3D printing, Drogosh is particularly excited about the students’ future entrepreneurial options.
“We’d like to see a student apply this to their major, and after they finish the program, come to us and say they’d like to go further. There are a lot of people in need of these types of devices, and we have the ability to give students the tools they need to develop them. That’s what we’re here for.”
Drogosh’s enthusiasm for 3D printing is contagious, as he describes the possibilities of the technology. In a relatively short period of time, 3D printing has gone from what seemed to many a “gadgetyâ€ invention that turned out plastic widgets to a massive industrial tool that can print almost anything – like houses and car engines – out of almost any material, from carbon fiber to plastic to concrete.
3D is the Future
The implications for business and industry are almost unimaginable.
“In the manufacturing world, it takes six months for you to design a prototype, send the mold off to China and get it back. But 3D printers let you do it fast, within a few hours. As the science develops, you could print out a house in a day using extruded concrete.
“People still don’t understand the amount of innovation that can be solved with a 3D printer, so the more students we have who understand the amount of time and money saved in the manufacturing process, the better,â€ he says.
Innovation Lives Here
Jackson, he says, is particularly receptive to the kinds of innovative, creative work that goes on in spaces like theCO and to the entrepreneurs who create there.
“Starting a business is a very lonely process, and you need a support group. It helps to have people who believe in you and who will lend their network of people to help you get started,â€ he says. “Property here is cheap, taxes are low, you have access to two big cities, and we have gigabyte internet here from Jackson Energy Authority, which helps so much. A lot of innovation is happening here. At the moment, we are working with more mom-and-pop, small-business ideas, and someday, I hope to see huge Silicon Valley-type startups come out of this community.”
Jackson Chamber and theCO present a free monthly get-together for small businesses called Spark, which is part networking and part learning with a different speaker each month. The event is from 7:45 to 9 a.m. at theCO, and past speaker topics include how to better network effectively, making ethical business decisions and Human Resources Crash Course, i.e. things to always do and things never to do when hiring.