Penn's new AddLab boasts 3-D printers for a 3-D world

Thanks in part to an anonymous $250,000 gift, Penn’s School of Engineering and Applied Science is opening the AddLab, a new facility that will feature a suite of state-of-the-art 3-D printing tools. The “add” in AddLab is for “additive manufacturing,” a catch-all term that encompasses the different techniques now available for making three-dimensional objects by building them layer by layer.  

Robert Carpick, chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics (MEAM), will host an opening ceremony on Thursday, Oct. 2, at 4 p.m. at the new space, located by the Chancellor’s Walk entrance to the Towne Building. There, he will lead an overview of the facility while other members of the department will demonstrate 3-D printers and the kinds of objects they can make.


“Penn’s founder Benjamin Franklin was an author, diplomat, inventor, physicist, engineer, politician, and printer,” Carpick says. “While we can only imagine what he would think of today’s revolution in manufacturing that is being brought about by the advent of 3-D printing, we are sure that he’d be proud to see Penn making its mark in the area.”

Mechanical engineers are often in need of parts that currently only exist within their imaginations—a bracket for attaching a newly invented sensor to an equally new robot, for example. Additive manufacturing is well-suited to making such parts, as inexpensive prototypes can be printed in a matter of hours, or even minutes. This fast turnaround-time makes testing slight variations and improvements easier. Once perfected, the part’s shape can be replicated with sturdier materials using traditional manufacturing techniques.     

Katherine Kuchenbecker, an associate professor in the MEAM department, has used the school’s pre-existing printers to make these types of brackets and mounts in her haptics research, which involves giving robots the sense of touch or simulating touch sensations for people. The new equipment and increased access will continue to speed up her work.

“With the AddLab, we can design and print those kinds of parts almost as quickly as we can think them up,” she says.

Having this capability is also a boon to students, who can turn their ideas into physical objects faster than ever before.

“Having a facility like this will really make it easy for students to turn their ideas into something they can hold in their hands,” says Jonathan Fiene, director of laboratory programs in MEAM.  “It will allow them to learn in a much more hands-on way, right off the bat.”

The AddLab is not just for engineers, however. Faculty, staff, and students from around the Penn community can work with the AddLab team on printing projects, cutting down on the cost and time associated with outside vendors.