Interns Tackle 3D Printing Challenge

November 2017
MITRE Interns
3D printer

One day, the Dronenut drone application and the Slouch Potato posture-monitoring system may become recognized internationally as must-have items—they were the result of the 2017 intern challenge held at MITRE's Bedford campus this summer.

The challenge—developed and implemented by former MITRE interns (now full-time employees) Erin Jaffke and Stephanie Medicke—encouraged the company's 2017 summer interns to freely experiment with 3D printing technology. The goal was to create and print an item that resolves an existing problem or enables a new solution.

"We wanted to create a challenge that would interest everyone," Medicke says. "3D printing is cross-cutting. It can enable designs that aren't specific to any one department or discipline."

More than 30 interns, working in seven teams throughout the summer, came up with an array of ideas for the 2017 Bedford Intern 3D Printing Design Challenge. The winning team created a design for a floating, airborne Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) antenna.

The members of the winning team were: Daniel Cashdollar of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (Daytona Beach, Florida); Jacob Downs, Olivia Maffia, and Keith Miller of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst; and Thomas Scaplen of Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Massachusetts.

They wanted to create a design that could extend the reach of the ADS-B antenna located on one of the MITRE buildings, at an elevation from 100 feet to 400 or 500 feet—or higher. The team's solution included an ADS-B antenna, a weather balloon, a GPS receiver, air-to-ground communications, and 80‑pound line to tether the antenna to a ground system. They used 3D printing to create the system's knotless tie line.

"It [the knotless tie line] utilized some unique aspects of 3D printing, making shapes and cuts and the holes through the middle that would be pretty hard to make otherwise using conventional methods," Cashdollar, who created the tie line, says.

The Judging Process

Four senior MITRE staff—Charley Benway, Richard Games, Russell Graves, and Carole Mahoney—judged each team's entries.

The open-ended competition made things interesting, according to Games.

"Everyone was doing different things," he says. "I found the diversity to be very impressive."

When asked about advice for future participants, Games says, "Choose something that you are less familiar with. You'll get more out of the activity as a learning experience than you will if you're an expert and you're on that path."

A Chance to Learn

The challenge provided many learning opportunities.

"I think the most important thing I learned from the challenge was how to have a group come up with and implement a timely solution," Maffia says. "Finding a solution to a problem and then designing and assembling the product with only an hour and a half per week was a challenge."

"The design process takes a lot of patience," Scaplen says. "Everything doesn't come out perfect the first time. It took a lot of rethinking and remodeling to get everything to fit together and function properly."

"The most important thing I learned from this challenge was to have an open mind and value every teammate's ideas," Downs says.

The 3D printing challenge, a pilot effort, met all of its objectives, according to challenge co-creator Jaffke.

"It was amazing to see all the hard work of the interns come to fruition," Jaffke says, noting that feedback verified the project's success. "The interns said that they liked networking with staff from multiple departments and utilizing different skills by working in cross-functional teams."

by Kathie Felix

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