BY Molly Congdon
CLIFTON PARK — When Colton Robtoy was 5, his aunt gave him an interactive toy that focused on space. As he pushed the buttons, it would light up and spew out facts, which mostly consisted of massive numbers such as how far away Saturn was from the Sun.
“I remember thinking, ‘Gosh, there’s a lot of other cool stuff out there that we just haven’t gotten to yet,’” said Robtoy, now 20.
Since then science and space exploration have been of interest to him; it’s a passion that he’s carried with him to college.
Now he is blazing trails himself: He’s the architect of the Capital Region’s first-ever 3D Printathalon.
After graduating as Shenendehowa’s salutatorian in 2013, Robtoy has been studying at SUNY Poly CNSE on a full ride scholarship where is he double majoring in nanoscale engineering and applied mathematics, with a minor in computer science. He just finished his sophomore year.
During the last six months he has had the opportunity to work at GE Global Research; there he was able to take on a project that many would find daunting — to 3D print a mini jet engine.
“This summer I thought that since I love 3D printing so much that I would make something really cool for the community to come out and experience,” Robtoy said. “That’s how I made Capital District Printathalon and I’m trying to get as many people to come to it as possible.”
At the beginning of the summer, he was taking an assortment of courses to get ahead with his degree. “Then I said, well, I can’t bring awesome to the world sitting here in class,” Robtoy said. “I dropped the rest of them June 18, so for the past six weeks I locked myself in my basement working 12-15 per day.”
It truly is one of a kind. “There has never been anything else like this in the Capital Region,” Robtoy said. “This is something that I want, when I first started 3D printing, it was a year and a half ago, what I really wanted was a place where I could go see all of it in person and meet the people doing it and ask them questions and see what’s possible; so I said, if I want something like this, maybe I should just go build it.”
So he did.
THE BIG BANG
It all began during his freshman year of college, when he took a nanoeconomics class, which focused on the nanotechnology industry. The second half of that semester, he had to complete a massive project, creating a product, writing up a 20-page business plan and finally topping it all off with a group presentation.
“Ours was fictional — it was ferrofluid, which is a fluid containing a magnetic suspension, that would be held in space by magnets, so this magnet can do stuff to the fluid and change it,” Robtoy said. “We interfaced that with a 3D modeling software so that you could see it on your computer and then floating in the air right in front of you.”
He continued: “I was in charge of writing up the competitors’ plan for that report and all of the competitors I looked at were all 3D printing companies. I was always good with 3D modeling — we had a bunch of pre-engineering classes at Shen — and now I can make something, print it out and have it — that’s pretty cool.”
The next month, he purchased a 3D printer. His first real creation was a device to ease binge watching movies and television shows–a case to hold your phone so that your hand doesn’t tire.
“It’s really fun to watch it make stuff,” Robtoy said. “I bought a bunch of wood at Home Depot and I printed all these parts that you slide into your cellphone and watch Netflix in bed.”
Robtoy moved to Clifton Park from Vermont when he was in second grade.
His mother, Beth Robtoy, works at Verizon and his father, Rich Miller, does heating and cooling work around the area. Robtoy also has a younger brother, Trenton Robtoy, who is about to enter his senior year at Shenendehowa, and plans to follow in his brother’s footsteps.
The Capital Region Printathalon will take place Sept. 18-20.
Sept. 18 will be the Speaker Series at SUNY Poly CNSE in Albany, and it will be open to the public. “We worked hard with Wesley Sherow and CNSE Summit Business Organization to bring this to you; this part will start at 5 p.m. with networking and then go from 6-9 p.m. within a single, large auditorium,” Robtoy said. “This is special time for people who have sponsored our event–and gotten a booth — to have the spotlight on them in front of people curious about 3D printing. They each have 20 minutes to talk about whatever they so choose related to 3D printing such as: What their company does, how they provide value to their customers, or maybe just what they are going to exhibit on Saturday and Sunday.”
On Sept. 19, the festivities will happen at the Ramada Plaza in Albany from 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. “We got a really nice 2,500-square-foot space to work in; this is where we will have a large open floor space with our sponsors having booths around the perimeter of the room,” Robtoy said. “Saturday & Sunday is when we are trying to get all of the kids/middle schoolers/robotics teams to come. They will come see what your booth has and just try to get introduced to the technology.”
He continued: “Concurrently on [Sept. 19], in one corner of our room, we will be holding our 24 hour 3D printing challenge, like a hackathon, which will last from noon on Saturday to noon on Sunday. Teams will come up to Albany and bring their printer and any filament to compete. We will give them a category and they will have 24 hours to design and print their best idea relating to that category.”
Then, finally, from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, all of the attendees will focus on the teams, which will present what they have made over the last 24 hours. Then, the judges will deliberate and choose the top two or three teams to receive 3D printing prizes.
The material most utilized are plastics such as ABS and PLA; some companies are incorporating cooper and bronze to get that regular bronze shine; others are crafting out of bamboo and wood; and much significantly larger scale printers are printing houses out of concrete. “They can go up fairly quickly, which would aide disaster areas in times of need,” Robtoy said. “Instead of weeks or months to make a house, it’s 24 to 48 hours.”
It seems as though 3D printing will be an asset to many booming industries. “The aerospace industry is trying to do lots of metal printing, because you can get geometries that you can’t by cutting things or shaving parts off and you can optimize the weight of the part to its strength a lot more efficiently,” Robtoy said. “And if you save 1 percent of weight per year for the airlines, they’re saving many millions of dollars.”
The medical field has advanced by leaps and bounds. “Doctors 3D printed someone’s brain so that they could see the tumor so that they could see where they needed to go in,” Robtoy said. “They are also able to make specific metal prosthetics for joint replacement, in a faster and cheaper fashion.”
The long-term vision for this gathering benefits the entire human race.
“We are going to need it to go to space and be a multi-planetary species,” Robtoy said. “It’s so expensive to go up there and you can’t just bring tables and chairs; you need to pack more efficiently. The main goal of this event is to get the kids introduced so that 20 or 30 years down the road they actually provide a lot of innovation to the industry; they will be the ones who allow us to flourish over on Mars.”
He added: “Perhaps our dressers will be made out of Mars mud.”