Calls for Innovation: 3D Printing Challenges and Competitions


Aya Bentur  

3D Printer by University of Alaska team for NASA 3D Printed Habitat Competition

Companies always strive to innovate and “think outside the box”, sometimes this requires inviting people from outside the company to co-innovate with them. This is particularly true when it comes to designs for Additive Manufacturing. This prompts companies to initiate open challenges and competitions where individuals and even students can take part, creating a non-conventional platform for innovation. Outside the company, independent minds can tackle problems and reach solutions that sometimes are harder to reach from within. Here are a few examples of Additive Manufacturing challenges, inviting outsiders to an innovative process.

Innovating Existing Products

Last year Gillette, with 3D Hubs and makersCAFE, initiated the RZR-MKR design competition, an open call to designers and makers to rethink a daily object: the razor. The participants designed and 3D printed razor handles taking into consideration the specs of Gillette razors. Some of the designs focused on the aesthetics while others addressed functionality and customized ergonomics.

Gillette 3D Hubs and makersCAFE - RZR-MKR 3D Printing Design Competition

At RAPID 2017  SME announced its Additive Manufacturing Community awards including its Digital Manufacturing Challenge Award. This annual challenge invites high school and college students to ‘use additive manufacturing to add value to a particular design’. The Award, sponsored by Fujifilm was given to Jacob Fallon, Camden Chatham, Andrew Cohen, Eric Gilmer and their faculty advisor Christopher Williams from Virginia Tech. The group used AM to create a customized golf grip, using clay, 3D scanning, and additive manufacturing.

In Zero Gravity

3D Printed Cone by Foster + Partners Branch Technology Team for Compression Test Competition - NASA 3D Printed Habitat Competition

NASA recently awarded 100,000$ in the 3D printed habitat challenge. The challenge is comprised of 3 phases, aiming to develop manufacturing technologies for constructing a habitat where building materials are short in supply. The first phase took place in 2015. The second phase “Structural Member Competition” reaches a total prize of $1.1 million. The sub-competitions include the ‘Compression Test Competition’ in which the winners Foster + Partners Branch Technology team were awarded $85,930 (above), and the University of Alaska Fairbanks received $14,070 (up top). NASA states that by setting up competitions they hope to attract “citizen inventors” from diverse backgrounds to develop 3D-printing technologies for space exploration.

Rifath Sharook, a teenager from India won the Cubes in Space competition set up by NASA and global education company, idoodlelearning. Sharook’s winning design is a 3D printed carbon fiber reinforced polymer satellite. The satellite, a cube of 4 cm and 64 grams, making it the world’s lightest satellite, is expected to be launched on a NASA rocket (below).

Rifath Sharook - Worlds Lightest 3D Printed Satellite

Impacting Daily Life

The American Society of Mechanical Engineers holds an annual Innovative Additive Manufacturing 3D Challenge (IAM3D) in collaboration with ASME’s Global E-Fests (Engineering Festivals). The challenge accepts submissions from mechanical engineering, multidisciplinary engineering, and technology undergraduate students worldwide and includes a series of events focusing on advanced manufacturing technologies and how they can potentially impact industrial, manufacturing and humanitarian fields. Penn State student Eric Miller, a mechanical engineering major designed a lightweight fully mobile lower-leg prosthetic (below).

Eric Miller - Penn State Berks - The American Society of Mechanical Engineers Innovative Additive Manufacturing 3D Challenge -ASME

The Trophy

Of course, all these challenge innovators deserve a trophy. The 3D Printing Industry Awards created a competition calling for designs of an additively manufactured trophy, made by the Virtual Foundry and given to 20 winners in various 3D printing categories. The winner, Morgan Morey, created a trophy based on the Roman sculpture of Laocoon and His Sons.

The 3D Printing Industry Awards Trophy - Morgan Morey and the Virtual Foundry

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