Never Too Young to Teach & Never Too Old to Learn

I started AdditiveAlison almost one year ago with one goal in mind: share with the world the power of Additive Manufacturing. I felt that if I could inspire just one person to want to learn more about AM and 3d printing, the blog would be deemed a success.

One thing I've learned a year later, however, is that my followers would be the ones to inspire me.

I worked through quite a bit of brainstorming and preparation for my 'One Year Blog Anniversary', including facing some writers-block. I knew I wanted to make my next piece something good, but I was struggling to find inspiration. That is, until I received an e-mail from a young man named Austin Suder.

Austin is not your average 19 year old.

Austin is a recent graduate from Arcadia High School in Phoenix, Arizona. He’s also an additive manufacturing intern at Phoenix Analysis & Design Technologies (PADT). Austin spent his senior year as President of his robotics team at Arcadia HS. Their team participated in FRC, the First Robotics Competition, and won.

Austin reached out to me via AdditiveAlison about a month ago and we exchanged a few emails. We eventually decided to meet at Starbucks for a coffee, as I explained that I wanted to learn more about him; it’s inspiring for me to see youth so interested in STEM and doing big things in the industry, all before graduating high school.

I learned that as part of the FRC, teams were given an instructional video and a 200-page rule book and were tasked with building a robot in 6 weeks. The team would then compete with the robot in several state and national competitions. They had a limited budget, no manufacturing tools, no CNC machines and had to build a roughly 4ft, 120 pound robot.

The team had some flexibility with their materials and had some guidelines on motors that were approved to use. Because of his experience with 3d printing, Austin asked his team the winning question,

“Why don’t we just 3D print our robot?”

They decided to 3d print a majority of the robot, as shown in every colored piece in the photo below.

Austin’s team consisted of a mix of students all interested in STEM subjects. There were 12 people: 4 girls, 8 boys.

The team had to make a robot that could pick up a cube from the ground and move it over ledges and walls, with walls ranging from 18 inches to 6ft. It had an articulating jaw and pneumatic piston providing actuation for the jaw, allowing the robot to grasp the cube and an entire arm that articulated by a geared motor. To get up to 6ft, the arm would go completely vertical and the team had to 3d print a gear box that was 16 to 1 (fully printed) so that it could lift the entire arm.

The last challenge of the competition involved lifting the robot off the ground by hooking onto a small metal rung. If you could lift your entire robot off the ground, you scored extra points.

They had experience with FEA (finite element analysis) and were able to design a custom hook in Solidworks.

They knew they needed a component that was easy enough to maneuver and get on the rung, and they knew their robot was right around 100 pounds. The final design consisted of a center piece and two hooks on either side. The first FEA test of just a single hook showed piece was only half as strong as it needed to be. After the team added a second hook, the final unit held ~300 pounds.

Their team won two awards: the Industrial Design Award & the Imagery Award. Judges liked the way the robot was built in a way that it showed off the engineering and mechanical design of the robot.

Winning a national robotics competition with 3d printing is impressive, but I also wanted to know: How does a high school student land an internship at PADT?

Austin shared that he has four 3d printers at his home, including 2 which use FDM technology. One of his greatest achievements includes developing a process to print with an FDM printer without use of support structures. He showed this process to several of his mentors, who eventually shared it with folks at ASU. From there, the team at PADT got ahold of it, and offered Austin an internship (Nice job, Eric & team!). He also published a white paper with a mentor for the Solid Freeform Fabrication Symposium last summer (2017). Again, all of this before graduating high school.

And last, but perhaps the most incredible story so far on Austin’s AM journey:

Winning the NASA and ASME Two for the Crew Challenge.

NASA asked high school students to design a part that would make astronauts lives easier on the International Space Station. The ISS currently has its own FDM printer, but given the atmosphere in which it prints, designers have very strict design guidelines. No support material is allowed as it floats around in zero gravity and can be ingested.

Austin designed a carabiner tool clip to solve the problem of zero gravity causing tools to float away while working. The clip can hold 4 hex sockets and 5 driver-bits. The carabiner portion allows astronauts to clip the tool to themselves or other tethered objects. The removable clasp feature has rounded profiles to allow for a self aligning snap fit. This tool holding carabiner concept could be incorporated into a carabiner that is tethered to astronauts on the ISS while on spacewalks. The part is completely 3d printable with no support needed, and is designed to be fully functional when removed.

The carabiner will be printed on ISS this summer, and Austin gets to travel to DC to uplink with the ISS as they print it. Austin, consider this my formal offer of carrying your luggage for you if that means I can join you for this incredible opportunity!

Mentorship is not always obvious or official, but is always a two-way street.

When I met with Austin last week at Starbucks, the first thing he said to me when I sat down was something along the lines of, “I follow your blog and follow you on social media, and it’s so cool to get to meet you in person!” It was a humbling moment for me. But I feel that I can actually say the same thing back to Austin.

Austin, your drive and motivation energizes me. It changes my beliefs about what is possible, and it changes my beliefs about limitations. You encourage me to continue to surround myself with people like you, with catalysts. Catalysts are pioneers who have an energy that seems to swirl around them, and inspire us to think the impossible is possible. Thank you for being #pioneering and inspiring those around you. And thank you for providing me with your incredible story to share.



As always, I welcome any comments or questions at

If you have enjoyed what you've read, please share it with your network. Follow me for more light and informative stories.
#nobigsheets | #additivealison