UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — In 1942, Heinz Warneke sculpted the famous Nittany Lion Shrine from a 13-ton block of Indiana limestone. Seventy-six years later, the Penn State 3D Printing Club printed a multi-colored head of the Nittany Lion using 20 different filament materials.
“We’re all Penn State students. We love Penn State and the Nittany Lion is such a big Penn State symbol. As a club, we thought it would be cool [to print the lion]. Last semester, when the ear broke off, we scanned the Nittany Lion and printed out an ear for it. Then, we thought it would be cool if we did the whole lion,” said Nate Ehrhardt, president of the 3D Printing Club.
In early February 2018, the right ear of the Nittany Lion Shrine broke for the fourth time since its construction. While the Penn State Office of the Physical Plant worked to reconstruct the ear, members of the 3D Printing Club heard about the damage on the news and decided they would print a temporary replacement. Made of acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, an opaque thermoplastic polymer commonly used to make keyboard keys and LEGO toys, the bright blue prosthetic ear serves as one of the club’s prominent achievements.
Toward the end of the summer, however, Ehrhardt, an aerospace engineering junior minoring in the technology based entrepreneurship cluster of ENTI, decided to use the club’s scans from when they were constructing the ear replacement in order to print the statue’s head.
“We’re always making small prints and we wanted to make something bigger and just take it to the next level,” said Daniel Tanney, a club member majoring in materials science and engineering. “Nate really spearheaded the project. He figured out what pieces we wanted to be what colors and what materials.”
After running the scan through Autodesk Meshmixer, a software used to work with triangle meshes in computer graphics, to convert it into a solid and fix any holes, Ehrhardt then used the software Fusion 360 to cut the scan into 64 smaller pieces. Each of these pieces was then run through Cura, a 3D printing application for slicing. Slicing is a process in 3D printing by which the model of the product is divided into hundreds of layers. Tanney, along with other members of the club, helped Ehrhardt print the final pieces.
Each individual part was printed using Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) printers. This process works by fusing different layers of material together in a pattern to create the required product.
The idea to use different printers, materials and colors was derived from We the Builders, an organization that makes crowd-sourced sculptures out of hundreds of small parts 3D-printed by interested parties around the world.
The 3D Printing Club employed the use of 20 different printers from across the University, including the ZMorph Multitool 3D Printer in the Made By Design Lab and the Monoprice Maker Select. The club also partnered with the Humanitarian Engineering and Social Entrepreneurship (HESE) program to use its Qtron printer obtained from Kenya. The club also joined HESE at Maker Faire — a “part science fair and part county fair” held in New York City in September to bring together “tech enthusiasts, crafters, educators, tinkerers, hobbyists, engineers, science clubs, authors, artists, students, and commercial exhibitors” in one place — to present the print of the lion head to Maker Faire attendees.
The final product also made use of nearly 20 different types of filament, including polypropylene, polycarbonate, Nylon 12, bioFila Linen, glow-in-the-dark PLA, and thermal-color-changing PLA.
“We tried to use as many different printers and materials as we could while printing the lion. We had a lot of fun doing it,” Ehrhardt said.
The printing of the lion head took nearly 600 hours, according to Tanney. It weighed more than 30 pounds and was 24 inches from ear-to-ear and 25 inches from the base to the tip of the nose. Ehrhardt notes, however, that the club’s print of the lion head is slightly bigger than that of the actual Nittany Lion Shrine due to the fact that the scan of the statue was made before the damaged ear was fixed. Thus, to make up for any discrepancies, the club decided to scale the scan up to make up for the ill-fitting ear from February.
Nicholas Meisel, assistant professor of engineering design and mechanical engineering, acts as an adviser for the 3D Printing Club along with Timothy Simpson, Paul Morrow Professor in Engineering Design and Manufacturing.
“I actually didn’t find out about the idea until I saw all of these giant chunks of material and I asked them, ‘What on earth are you guys doing?’ I stumbled upon their idea as they were halfway through and I got super excited about it because it’s neat and really fun for them to be doing,” Meisel said. “That’s why they’re fun to work with. They have these larger than life ideas and passion for what they do. They’re not afraid to dive in and get their hands dirty.”
The 3D Printing Club was founded in 2013 to provide students with further knowledge and experience related to 3D printing and its technology beyond what they were exposed to inside a classroom. Members experiment with various types of 3D printing and often take on projects for local businesses in the State College area. The club occasionally hosts print-a-thons and design competitions to foster social engagement between members as well as connections with the world of 3D printing.
“3D printing is just the best way to figure out what you’re trying to get to and being able to have a physical thing in your hand — whether it’s for a class project, for a business idea — it’s just kind of the best way to get your ideas into a physical object without taking cardboard and smashing it together,” Tanney said.