McMaster University and Array: Scaled 3D printing for educational institutions

McMaster Engineering is committed to the pursuit of excellence and plays a significant role in helping McMaster University earn its reputation as one of Canada's most innovative universities. The calibre of the institution’s research and the impacts they make are well known and respected in Canada and across the globe. Faculty members are consistently awarded national and international recognition for pushing the boundaries of discovery and exploring novel, ground-breaking technologies.

One of those ground breaking technologies is 3D Printing, FFF and additive manufacturing in general. With one of the most highly regarded Science and Engineering programs in the country, FFF sits at the forefront as an innovative new learning tool.


The Challenge

McMaster University’s goal is to educate their students while providing hands on experience. 3D printing and other fabrication methods play core roles in this learning. There are many different aspects to learning with these technologies, typically, McMaster students are given a design challenge and tasked with finding the best solution to the challenge.

As covered by Assistant Professor Liz Hassan, one of their recent projects included the design and building of a robot without wheels. This project teaches core design principles, such as power transfer, friction and leverage. The challenge they ran into is that with a 12 week long term, students would not be able to fit in enough iteration cycles to learn from their test results and incorporate that feedback into their future designs. 

Their 3D printing processes broke down when McMaster’s professors all had their students needing to print at the same time. This would cause their 3D printing facilities to be overwhelmed over the course of a few weeks, and would limit the number of iterations and projects that could harness the benefits of 3D printing. 

Their goal is to get to three iteration cycles in a single term, giving students the opportunity to test their initial prototypes, and create re-designs based on initial feedback. To do this, McMaster needs access to higher throughput systems.

McMaster’s challenges were two fold: 

  1. They require a high amount of throughput, allowing them to handle high student printing requirements during the most demanding times in the semester
  2. They need to coordinate print files and project management with hundreds of students over a semester. This administration burden reduced potential to fully utilize the printers they had on hand, as professors and TA’s had to spend time to manage student project flows. 

This is where Array comes in. 

The Solution

Automated Project Management

Canvas Array’s automated project management flows allow McMaster to handle their student projects in an almost fully automated manner. Students will submit their project files to the administrator, who can review the project and print settings. 


The administrator will then approve the project to be printed, at which point it will be sent to the Array. Once completed, the student will get a notification, and they’ll show up at the printing lab to get their completed print. 

“Having access to the Array technology is really useful because it allows us to squeeze in one more iteration cycle, one more design build test cycle. That's really positive because students are able to learn from their test results and incorporate that feedback into a new and improved prototype...”

-Elizabeth Hassan, Ph.D, P.Eng | Associate Professor, Mechanical Engineering 

Canvas Array cuts the project management time per student down significantly, allowing faculty members to spend their time interacting with students in more valuable ways. 

Scalability and High Throughput 

Serving the printing needs of hundreds of students per semester is no easy task. In addition to the project management process above, having the printers available to complete the student printing projects is another hurdle faced by universities like McMaster. 

Typically, a manual 3D printer will sit idle for >50% of its life. This low uptime is due to staff not being on hand 24/7 to switch over to a new print once a print is completed. 

One Array system has 10x the throughput of a standard 3D printer. This increased throughput is due to its parallel printing approach, as well as its automation. With Array, you have four printers printing in parallel, and when each of them is completed Array’s Robotic System will remove the completed print bed, put a fresh bed on the printer, and start the next print. Array’s Robotic System is equivalent to having staff on hand 24/7 to start new prints when the current one is completed. 

Students can effortlessly print multiple interaction of their projects, and access a faster turnaround time on these prints allowing for more iteration, more testing, and an overall better understanding. 

The Future

“What I am so impressed with the Array product is to be able to say -"Okay everybody have your parts on Friday at noon and on Monday at noon we'll have the parts ready for you." This idea of having the printers ecosystem manage most of those pain points is really quite powerful and transformative in terms of how our profs can deliver classes and design training.”

-John Colenbrander, P.Eng, M.A.Sc | Facilities Manager, Dept. of Mechanical Engineering”

By adopting Array, universities and Post-secondary institutions are able to increase their throughput, decrease the time requirements on staff, and better educate students on the core principles of their courses. McMaster sees the potential Array could bring and will be one of the first to receive a production unit in 2022. This will help empower future generations of engineers with a comprehensive learning experience and allow them to make the most of their first potential 3DP and FFF experience.

Want to learn more about how Array can help you educate your students using 3D printing? Contact our team below to learn more:

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