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Why 3D Printers Might Create the Next Robotic Champion

December 11, 2013 - 4:18pm


As the nation's premier research laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory is one of the world's most capable resources for transforming the next generation of scientific discovery into solutions for rebuilding and revitalizing America's manufacturing industries, with tools like 3D printers.

The Department of Energy and its partners are adding a new dimension to science, technology, engineering and math education (STEM). This December, high school teams competing in the FIRST Robotics Competition should be racing over to this FIRST Robotics website to put in their bid for a free Cube 3D printer, an innovative additive manufacturing tool that can aid them in their quest to engineer robots from scratch.

These printers are available to competing teams because of a unique collaboration between the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Advanced Manufacturing Office, America Makes ,MakerBot, TNFIRST, 3D Systems, and MakerGear. 400 printers will be available to FIRST Robotics teams across the country because of this innovative public-private partnership.

I saw the innovation power of Oak Ridge’s use of additive manufacturing when I toured its Manufacturing Demonstration Facility in August. Now, students across the country will be able to tap into that innovation first hand by creating custom parts for their robots.

The Cube printers will be made by 3D Systems, and the company will donate a suite of design software tools to each team that receives a printer. The competitors will use those printers during the intense six-week build period to construct the most efficient robot. The FIRST Robotics Competition encourages students to work collaboratively and experience the real-world application of their classroom curriculum. By building robots, this training process is also building champions, innovators and our nation’s future STEM workforce.

For more information about Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s innovations in manufacturing, visit