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October 24. 2013 9:10PM

UNH's 3D printer enables students to quickly make prototypes


Kevin Klosek, left, and Spencer Roux observe a 3D printer in the new innovation lab at the University of New Hampshire's Paul College. (Mike Ross/UNH Photographic Services)

DURHAM — New technology at the University of New Hampshire's Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics will allow students to rapidly prototype new products and innovations.

The 3D printer by MakerBot and 3D image scanning system from NextEngine are part of a new innovation lab at the college, made possible with support from Borealis Ventures and Unitil.

UNH Provost Lisa McFarlane said the innovation lab will leverage Paul College's reputation in the areas of product innovation, entrepreneurship and sustainability.

"The whole focus of this innovation lab is to facilitate and foster student-centered innovation through collaborative and experiential learning," said Venky Venkatachalam, professor and associate dean of academic programs at Paul College.

Venkatachalam said the new innovation lab gives students a complete experience, from concept to product prototype.

"Normally, developing a prototype takes months, and entrepreneurs usually have nothing to show during the market research phase," Venkatachalam said.

The innovation lab allows students to have a prototype in their hands in a matter of hours that can be easily refined based on customer feedback.

Spencer Roux, a Paul College Master of Business Administration student from Newmarket with a mechanical engineering background, has already taken advantage of the lab to test product ideas.

"This lab furthers the possibilities for my education, bridging the gap between concept and reality," Roux said. "From a mechanical engineering perspective, the lab is a necessary tool for testing the validity of an idea and is an exciting addition to my MBA experience."

Venkatachalam said giving students firsthand experience in rapid innovation and product development will better prepare them for entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial thinking no matter what career they move on to.

He said innovators also have a better chance of getting funding for a product if they are able to fine-tune a product design beforehand, instead of just presenting a concept.

The lab allows students to do that even faster.

"The idea is to reduce the time it takes to market and create an idea of a product," Venkatachalam said. "If you can reduce the time, you have a better chance of success in the market. Today it is not enough to be an entrepreneur. You should be able to bring the products to market really, really quick."

He said the technology allows students to create a prototype in a few hours for a few dollars, compared to the typical eight-to-12 week, $10,000 project it would be without it.

The combined value of both pieces of equipment is about $10,000, he said.

gmacalaster@newstote.com.



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