Visualization Center brings ideas to life through 3-D printing


There is a constant buzz and neon glow in the 3D printing center in the Advanced Visualization Center (AVC) at USF, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

The little room where projects come to being within machines of varying shapes and sizes houses just one of the high-tech services offered to students within the AVC. The center itself, CMC 147, is home to a multitude of services and pieces of equipment that come at little to no cost to students from all departments.

Howard Kaplan, senior technologist and visualization specialist in the AVC, said the main goal of the AVC is to introduce faculty and students to these new technologies so that they can integrate them into their assignments and research.

“(The AVC) runs the whole gamut for advanced technologies,” Kaplan said.

The AVC’s technologies extends beyond the buzzing of the 3D printing lab. It has a lab with high performance computers and a large HD screen with 20 million pixels. The main room, CMC 147, can be rented out for classes and presentations. The AVC also offers help with using these technologies and Kaplan himself gives lectures about technology offered in the center for some courses.

Funding for the center comes from IT utilizing the technology fee students pay. Consequently, most of the services are free for students and faculty for things that relate to their academics or grant funded research. Prices for 3D printing depend on the time it takes to print the project and the grams of material used, according to the official rates from the center’s website. 

On average, about 100 to 150 students utilize the center every day, Kaplan said. These students come from across the different departments, from engineering to the arts.

“It’s open to everyone for everything,” Kaplan said.

Students and faculty don’t have to come in with any technological expertise or drawn out plans for their projects. Kaplan said he’s had students come in with just an idea in their heads or an article they had questions about.

“We don’t have the answers to every single thing,” Kaplan said. “We’re not an expert in particular fields that students are studying so we can’t help them with that type of area but if it relates to technology in some way, typically we can help them, or at least guide them to the right direction.”

If the center can’t answer the question, the staff there can use their connections to redirect the student to the right person to ask. A lot of collaborations between departments and faculty have happened through this redirection, Kaplan said.

Of all the projects he’s seen come through the center, Kaplan said it’s hard to pick a favorite. He said the center has done work with students and faculty in paleontology, forensics and art. Each project is unique, he said.

“What gets me excited is when a student gets excited about it, you know, when they have that ‘a-ha’ moment when their idea actually comes to light or when they understand how to solve the problem,” Kaplan said.

The center hasn’t always been the advanced technological hub that it is today. Gilberto Jaimes, systems and technology analyst in the AVC and USF alumnus from the class of 2014, remembers when the AVC first started. The room that now constantly hums with the work of the 3D printers used to contain just six computers.

“Although we have a lot less computers we have a lot more equipment,” he said.

Jaimes said he has seen students use the 3D printing services in particular for all kinds of projects. Biology and chemistry majors have printed models and visualizations for concepts, and Jaimes said an art major came in one day asking for the 3D printing scraps to use for an art project.

“Even the mess-ups count,” Jaimes said.

Cassandra Lefevers, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering and 3D printing technician at the AVC, said working at the center has helped her learn a lot about the 3D printing process, as well as some technological tips and tricks.

“It’s been very interesting and expanding working here,” she said.

Jaimes said he finds that those who come to use the 3D printing services sometimes don’t understand how it differs from 2D printing. He encourages people to come into the center and ask questions about the AVC services.

“Just come by,” he said. “Ask questions. No question is dumb. We’ve heard it all.”

Kaplan also encourages students to come and utilize the resource that they have in the AVC.

“It’s pretty remarkable that they have access to a resource like this,” he said. “A lot of universities don’t have anything like this that’s available to all students so they should at least come in and see what’s available for them. They never know when they might need it.”