A glass of cold water materializes at a simple command from T’Pol, a Vulcan who serves on the spaceship Enterprise, in a clip from early 2000s series “Star Trek Enterprise.”
“I saw a similar device on a Tarkalean vessel,” T’Pol says in the clip. “It was capable of replicating almost any inanimate object.”
“If we had one of these in engineering, we could make all the spare parts we need,” notes Trip Tucker, another character in the series.
This idea was Chance Glenn’s inspiration for making the eForge, a 3D printer he claims is the only one on the market capable of printing fully functional electronic devices.
The device, which launched a Kickstarter campaign Tuesday and is set to reach consumers by summer 2020, is one of many 3D printers in production by startups across the county.
The ubiquitous place of 3D printing startups in 2019’s tech market makes it difficult to differentiate between them, even for an expert like Carolyn Seepersad, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin.
“There’s so many that nobody can keep track of them,” Seepersad said. “Everybody and their brother has some sort of 3D printing startup.”
In the coming months, Glenn plans to establish a manufacturing and distribution center in Victoria for his company, Morningbird Media.
Additionally, Seepersad said, the ability to print eight different materials simultaneously may make Glenn’s machine stand out in a wider market – even if the ability to print electronics isn’t as unique as Glenn makes it sound.
Seepersad pointed to Voxel8’s Developer’s Kit 3D printer, which was first announced in 2015 and is capable of printing electronics.
“That’s a really hot thing right now, being able to print circuitry as you print materials,” Seepersad said.
However, Voxel8’s device only prints only two materials. The eForge is capable of printing eight different materials, six of which have pending patents.
Glenn, who also serves as the University of Houston-Victoria’s provost and vice president of academic affairs, received degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Maryland at College Park and Johns Hopkins University.
Glenn said he studied engineering with a creative mindset. He said he later entered academia and its administration in order to guide the next generation of similar-minded individuals.
Through the eForge, Glenn said he wants to inspire them to make new products and devices.
“Just imagine creative people coming up with these really wild things,” Glenn said. “Imagine the cottage industries that could pop up around it.”
Morningbird Media, Glenn’s company, was funded by NASA’s Small Business Technology Transfer program. In the program, small businesses can partner with universities and propose to research topics that support various projects and programs within the agency.
“Under this multiyear effort, Morningbird Media and Alabama A&M developed filament materials for 3D printing with specific electrical properties,” said Tracie Prater, a representative for NASA’s STTR program. “They also developed a small desktop printing system for electronic components.”
Curtis Hill, senior materials engineer and subject matter expert for NASA’s In Space Manufacturing Project, said he’s excited for the potential of Glenn’s product in future space expeditions.
“This project fits well with our overall plans in ISM to develop capabilities for multi-material 3D printing that we might be able to use in our manufacturing development for the International Space Station and future habitats on the moon and Mars,” Hill said.
For Glenn, the venture into 3D printing was the next step in a career of many hats. In addition to running his own 3D printing startup and serving as vice president and provost of UHV, Glenn is also a Grammy-nominated musician through his work with gospel group The Praise Project.
“Right now, 3D printing is very exciting and useful,” Glenn said. “There’s just so much tremendous opportunity here.”