Vicedirektør Hans Nørgaard Hansen og rektor Anders Bjarklev

FABLAB – DTU Mechanical Engineering’s creative 3D printer laboratory

DTU Mechanical Engineering’s new 3D printer laboratory—FABLAB—opened on  March 1'st, 3013 as the best equipped and biggest machine fleet of its kind in the Nordic region for both researchers and students. The FABLAB staff  offer tutoring in how to use 3D printing, and in 2013 held courses for 80 Master’s students and 2–300 undergraduates.

They also ran approximately 15 crash courses in the 3D printing technology. The 3D printers in FABLAB are more-or-less only switched off at night, and since the lab opened in March they have produced a stream of  parts from over 265 km of the plastic wire  that the 3D printers consume.

3D printing for prototypes and problem-solving
FABLAB has quickly become a creative exploratorium for the development and design of prototypes and new  products.  For example, students from the Roadrunners team—from the Section of Thermal Energy—were quick to realize the potential offered by 3D printers when developing Dynamo 9.0, their eco-car, which went on to win the Shell Eco-marathon in the Netherlands.

Nikolaj Aleksander Dagnæs-Hansen, a member of the DTU Roadrunners team, relates that most of the laminar air flow meter for the eco-car was actually produced on the 3D printers in FABLAB. An air flow meter is used to determine how much air is flowing into the engine so that an appropriate volume of fuel can be injected in relation to the air volume. The air flow meter is a prototype that was used for testing in 2013, and Nikolaj Aleksander Dagnæs-Hansen expects the eco-car to participate in the Shell Eco-marathon 2014 with an optimized version of the meter—also produced on 3D printers.  “It’s a real advantage to use 3D printing to make the air flow meter, because this produces a design that prevents any deformation of the internal channels,” he says.

Many of the other small components for the eco-car were also made on 3D printers: a holder for the battery, a holder for the pressure valves, and hub caps for the wheels. 3D printing is ideal for fast production of units used in prototypes that  is not part of a standard range.

The topology optimization group from the Section of Solid Mechanics has used the 3D printers to make a material with a structure that would otherwise have been almost impossible to produce with the precision required to achieve the desired properties. As another example, researcher Fengwen Wang has used the 3D printers in the lab to make a material with a structure that allows the material to expand sideways when subjected to horizontal tension. This is a property that is very interesting to industrial players as regards products such as versatile motion transformers, hydrophones and damage-resistant sandwich cores.

Joe Alexandersen, another researcher at the Section of Solid Mechanics, has used the 3D printing technique for design development in connection with cooling. He has made use of topology optimization to establish the appropriate distribution of  material to ensure the best cooling conditions for the design. In this context, he has 3D printed a model that may form the starting point for a new design, and which can be experimentally tested and compared with other heat sinks.

3D printede figurer
Many of the 405 students in FABLAB have been scanned using a 3D scanner and had miniature copies of themselves printed.

Inexpensive solutions to practical problems

FABLAB is not  exclusively  available for researchers and students using the machines to build up models for their projects, layer by layer, in plastic or plaster in all kinds of coloursThe laboratory also carries out a range of assignments for companies outside DTU and for researchers from other departments looking for a solution to a practical problem. Jakob Skov Nielsen, Laboratory Engineer, is in charge of FABLAB and takes care of operations and teaching in the print shop. Along with Jannick Schultz, 3D print technician, he can envisage using the 3D printers for all kinds of creative and inexpensive solutions.

In this regard, Hanne Bjerre Christensen, a researcher at DTU Biosustain, came up with an inexpensive solution to a practical problem when she 3D printed 16 trays in very specific dimensions to hold sample tubes. The alternative would have been to order an expensive standard product from a single manufacturer. The beauty of 3D technology is that it allows you to use 3D drawing software to design your item, print it that same day, and finish up with a functional solution at a very reasonable price—and without a four or five-figure invoice to pay from your project or departmental budget.

Jannick Schultz and Jakob Skov Nielsen occasionally receive enquiries for assignments that are simply too comprehensive for their machines to cope with in practice. Like the time when the editing team at a well-known Danish news medium  quoted the price for having the team members’ heads 3D scanned and printed. Or when a leading art museum asked if it would be possible to have a 3D print made within a couple of weeks of a comprehensive 2 x 2 m architectural layout for an extension. “In those cases, we have to decline politely,” relates Jakob Skov Nielsen, “or quote them the price a 3D printing company outside the university would take for the same assignment.”


Research: New method for measuring hyper-complex shapes
David Bue Pedersen is responsible for the research activities at FABLAB. He places great emphasis on the numerous new  areas of research  that the technology opens up. He also describes 3D printing as the third industrial revolution and a technology comparable with the internet for the importance it will have for ordinary consumers, for entrepreneurs developing prototypes, and for production at small companies. 3D printing allows consumers, inventors or company owners to design and/or make the small objects or products they need, without having to wait for delivery from a major production chain.

One of the biggest advantages of 3D printing as a new production technology is that it allows the design and manufacture of hyper-complex free form geometries. Briefly put, it is possible to make shapes so complex that it is physically impossible to make them in any other way. The manufacture of items featuring this type of geometric freedom that has previously been off limits to product designers and developers is now limited purely on account of the quality assurance requirements  common for industrial production. The hugely advanced shapes produced through 3D printing cannot be measured using conventional methods, and until now it has been impossible to put them into industrial production without emplying expensive CT scan technologies for this very reason.

However, David Bue Pedersen has now developed a system that uses computer vision to measure 3D-printed items while they are actually being made. The new method is based on the fact that all 3D printing technologies are layered, i.e. the process involves printing layer by layer. If a picture is taken of each layer as soon as it has been laid—and before the next layer is applied—then the entire object can be fully photographed and control measurement can then be performed on the three-dimensional reconstruction of the item in question. This method of measuring is extremely important with regard to utilizing 3D printing technology to the full, and the method has been one of the focus areas in David Bue Pedersen’s projects. In this context, Eythor Eríksson has just been taken on as a PhD student to develop the system even further under the auspices of DTU Compute and DTU Mechanical Engineering.


3D printede emner.
 3D printing is a technology that allows production of hyper-complex geometric design.


Facts: the number of students who have already passed through FABLAB:


41782 – Production technology, exercises:

approx. 60 students, spring (ten days with six students per team on average)

approx. 60 students, autumn (ten days with six students per team on average)


41713 – Production technology and Production management:

approx. 60 students (ten days with six students per team on average)


41030 – Design of mechatronics:

55 students


31373 - Automation, components and systems:

approx. 30 students


Project students (special courses, subject packs, Bachelor, Master’s, PhD)

approx. 20


Registered for crash courses in 3D printing, taught by Jannick (technician at FABLAB):

approx. 100 (courses run in spring and autumn, two courses per week, max. six students per team)


In all, this amounts to: 405 students.




David Bue Pedersen
Senior Researcher
DTU Mechanical Engineering
+45 45 25 48 10


Jakob Skov Nielsen
Laboratory Engineer
DTU Mechanical Engineering
+45 45 25 47 23