UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — While many students spent their summers at the beach or binge watching Netflix, industrial engineering doctoral student Rakshith Badarinath and Shu Shu Wang, who graduated in the spring with her master of science degree in industrial engineering, built a robotic arm.
Unlike traditional robotics that use pieces made of metal, the partners used 3D printing. The project began as a topic for Wang’s thesis. When she decided to focus on 3D printing she reached out to her friend Badarinath, whose research is focused on additive manufacturing, for help.
Badarinath had been interested in manufacturing since he was a child.
“You know those shows on the Discovery Channel, where they show the factories of cars and other items? I loved watching those,” Badarinath said.
His childhood interests led him to pursue a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Siddagana Institute of Technology in India. When deciding on a graduate program, Badarinath wanted to not only continue learning about manufacturing but also how to optimize the process. During his first semester at Penn State, he was introduced to 3D printing in one of his courses. Since then one of Badarinath’s projects has involved working with faculty members in the Harold and Inge Marcus Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering to convert machines in the department’s Factory for Advanced Manufacturing Education (FAME) lab into 3D printers.
Badarinath and Wang were brought together by their adviser, Vittal Prabhu, who suggested the two work together. After numerous meetings, Prabhu helped the students nail down an idea for the project.
The focus of Wang’s thesis was comparing the results after using different 3D printing processes to create an object. Through open-source software online, Badarinath was able to purchase the plans and coding for a robotic arm called “MeArm.”
“We didn’t want to make something that is a play thing, like a toy or figurine,” said Badarinath. “We wanted it to be functional, to have an actual use in industry.”