/The southeast’s largest collegiate 3D printer
3D printer. Photo courtesy of Kyle Moore.

The southeast’s largest collegiate 3D printer

By M.K. Bryant 

During UM theatre professor Kyle Moore’s sabbatical in spring 2022, he set out to complete his revision of the Aluminum Tortoise—a giant 3D printer that was first created in 2015 as an undergraduate research project. 

The version that was built in 2015 was the first 3D printer that Moore had ever built.  

Moore said that, over the past few years, one of his goals has been to bring down the cost of 3D printing. There are a couple of reasons for this goal—one being to avoid “having to charge students for the things they want to print,” and another being so he “can print big things and not have them be too expensive.” 

In order to achieve this goal, Moore designed the Aluminum Tortoise with a pellet extruder so it can use melted recycled plastics rather than the PLA filaments that most 3D printers use.  

The design is Moore’s own, but he said that it borrows heavily from other printers that are on the market. 

Moore has used the printer, which was funded by the University’s Green Fund Grant, to build several 3D printed pieces that will be placed around campus. One of these pieces is a set of stools and chess table that Moore says were designed by Lee Somers, an art professor at the University. Currently, this piece is intended to be placed in the bottom floor of Carmichael Library. Moore described the purpose of this project as being to “demonstrate the possibilities with 3D printing recycled materials.” 

More explained that 3D printing has also been useful in the theatre department. He said that “It makes intricate models more accessible. Instead of needing a skilled artisan to build a sculpture, you can 3D print it.”  

3D printing has been used in many ways during past UM performances. Moore explained how “The first 3D printed piece was a ray gun from “The Rocky Horror Show.” It was built from eleven 3D printed pieces that were all glued together.”  

More recently, in fall 2021, snakes were 3D printed for Medusa’s wig in “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical.” 

Moore is currently working with Red Mountain Theatre Company to “create the world’s first 3D printed set” for a production of Matilda. The show is intended to go up in May 2023.  

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M.K. Bryant is a contributing journalist for The Alabamian. She’s majoring in mass communication with a concentration in multimedia journalism, and she’s double-minoring in theatre and creative writing. When she’s not busy watering her plants or writing, M.K. can probably be found wandering around an art museum or a library.