Nick Bira leads initiative to bring 3-D printing to all students

The sophomore received funding from an MU committee for the project.
Photo of the 3-D printer featured at Ellis Library in Columbia, Mo.

Imagine having the option to print out anything from daily tools like a screwdriver or wrench to elaborate art sculptures.

Beginning April 2, you can. Ellis Library will house two 3-D printers for students to use, the culmination of a seven-month effort from sophomore Nick Bira, an engineering student who is head of the project.

On what type of items students will be able to print, Bira said that you are “basically limited only by your imagination.”

Print Anything at Mizzou, the 3-D printing program, is a play on words from the Print Anywhere service, Bira said. Prices for the program are yet to be finalized.

He said the printer will have endless academic applications. Students studying architecture will have the opportunity to print out miniatures of their building designs. Artists can print sculptures that would otherwise be too complicated to make on their own.

“If you’re an anatomy student and you’re studying for some bone test and you have to know all the bones in the hand, you could print out all the bones of the hand and you’d have a miniature hand model that you could have, well, in your hand, so to speak,” Bira said. “You could create all sorts of miniatures of anatomy bits to use or study with.”

Likewise, the printer will offer assistance in many other areas far beyond just academic purposes. Bira said the printer could be used for anything from creating a hammer to replacing a broken handlebar on your bike.

“It’s a tool,” he said. “It has a lot of different applications.”

Bira began the process to bring 3-D printing to students last semester.

While working on a 3-D printing project, Bira said he realized that most of the MU community cannot access this technology.

He said that although there is a larger 3-D printing lab in Lafferre Hall and a few others around campus, they are reserved for certain individuals or groups and none of them are available to the average student.

“All of these things really limit access to the technology,” Bira said. “I was reading stuff online about how other universities had access to 3-D printing and that really got me thinking, you know, ‘We should have this access. This is something that is rapidly becoming more relevant these days.’ And I thought it would be really good for all Mizzou students to be able to use one.”

After doing some searching around, Bira decided to write a proposal to the MU Interdisciplinary Innovations Fund, a program that provides funding for student-driven projects or initiatives that utilize innovative technology.

In October 2014, Bira presented the proposal to the board of the fund. After that, Bira said not much happened.

“It wasn’t until over winter break that they notified me that I was receiving funding for that,” he said. “So we’ve been working on it ever since.”

A launch party for Print Anything at Mizzou will be held at 1 p.m. on April 2 in Ellis Library. Students will be able to learn more about how to place a print request and staff will begin accepting orders. For the people attending the event, Bira said they can expect a few free giveaway prints and discounts.

Greg Emanuel, manager of the Engineering Laboratory in the College of Engineering, has been working with Bira on the project for several months now.

With plans already in action to offer the printing solely to students within the College of Engineering, Emanuel said he thought Bira’s idea to offer the service to all of campus was a great idea.

“He came with his idea about wanting to do this for campus and I just thought, ‘Well, okay. This is great. This would be a great opportunity to have a student present an idea and taking the initiative to present an idea and follow through with it,’” Emanuel said. “He did all the work to present the idea to the IIF.”

The students running the program will deal with everything from deciding pricing, figuring out the best way to advertise and market, setting the schedules and choosing the process for day-to-day activity. Emanuel said his main role in the initiative is to act as a sponsor for the project.

“From my experience and from my perspective with the large 3-D printing lab, I was able to give him tools to think about, maybe some ways to approach it and how to help him set the scope of this project,” Emanuel said.

Along with answering questions and offering overall guidance, Emanuel said he will also manage the profit aspect of the project.

“I think the important thing, kind of what I keep telling Nick, is I’m here to provide guidance and generally what I do is give them maybe some overall direction or a scope and I usually end everything with, ‘You make the decision,’” Emanuel said. “This is a student-run organization, it was thought up by a student and it’s being initiated by students.”

The 3-D printing services are students from all areas across campus, such as the College of Business and the School of Journalism.

“I think that’s a key part to this is that it’s truly a student organization and it’s not just comprised of engineering students,” Emanuel said. “Hopefully it turns out to be an inaugural year.”

Emanuel said he hopes to see the service expand in the future.

“Right now, they can only offer this to the MU campus for the staff and students, but hopefully it gets to a point to where it can extend,” Emanuel said. “Hopefully it takes off.”

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