Faculty Student Summer Research: 3D Concrete Printer

This summer Whitney O’Reardon ’22 and Kelly Goff, Associate Professor of Visual Art, collaborated in the research project during which they designed and constructed a 3D Concrete printer.

Video Produced by Allison Chaves ’21

Whitney writes:

This summer I built a large scale CNC (computer numerically controlled) machine as part of a research collaboration with Prof. Kelly Goff. A CNC machine, such as a 3D printer, is an automated machine that uses computer code for its operating instructions. This was a very challenging and rewarding project. Our initial goal was to construct a large 3D printer that could extrude liquid concrete. 

Kelly and I designed and built the wooden CNC frame out of scrap wood. Then, we used belts and gears to give motion to the X and Y axes. Throughout building the structure, we discovered things that did and didn’t work. This resulted in a sort of “design, make, test, and repeat” process. To automate the printer, I connected stepper motors and a control board to the wooden frame. The control board runs on an open source firmware called Marlin, and I tell the machine how to move using a programming language called G-code.

Something I discovered earlier on was that there is a community of online “makers” who are very willing to share the progress and failures of their own creations. I was able to learn from these resources throughout our project. We also sought advice from Professor Jason Goodman in the physics department, and Myles Trevino, a Wheaton graduate.

It’s exciting to know that we built this machine ourselves, and much of it from scratch. As I mentioned before, this was a very challenging project, and we did not get to the point of working on a Z-axis, which would move the printer head up and down. At the end of this summer, we have achieved the 1.0 version of the machine, which has become a large two dimensional pen plotter that can take in code and move in an automated way to create drawings.