3D printed fishing bobbers win most innovative design

By Pat Bowden Reporter


Last November, engineering students Eric Chapin, Tyler Tashner and Brandon Westrick, accompanied by advisor and assistant professor Todd Letcher, won the most innovative award for their efficiently-designed and 3D printed customizable fishing bobbers at the IAM3D international competition held in Montreal, Québec, Canada.

The contest’s purpose, which was conveniently also a part of a machine design class taught by Letcher, was to create a more efficient version of an existing product using 3D printing technology. For Chapin and his fellow teammates, their topic to redesign fishing bobbers came naturally instead of brainstorming for an idea.

“Tyler and I would end up getting bored and talking about what we did last weekend, and it was usually fishing. After that it was pretty obvious what o u r project was going to be,” Chapin said.

Chapin and Letcher traveled to Montreal to present the bobbers, part of which was judged and graded based upon the presentation of the product and how it would be manufactured and sold.

“The IAM3D competition in Montreal was a really great experience for all of us—we learned a lot and had a great day,” Letcher said.

Chapin jumped at the chance to travel to Canada as he had other motives outside of winning the competition.

“It was part of the class and I’ve lived in South Dakota my whole life, so whenever I get a free opportunity to leave the state I take it,” Chapin said.

While the 3D printed bobbers are cheaper to make and more overhead cost friendly, Chapin’s creations are also customizable into any shape that can be printed.

“… With 3D printing, we can make every bobber completely customized. The bobber could be designed and manufactured customized. The bobber could be designed and manufactured while the customer finishes their other shopping at the sporting goods store,” Letcher said.

According to Chapin, the bobbers also make sense at a marketing standpoint because even the raw material to create them is cheaper than what it is currently. Each bobber costs 30 cents to make, and uses only 3D printing material versus the popular balsa wood used to make them today.

The award presented to Chapin also included a $2,000 prize, which the mechanical engineering major invested in his own 3D printer at home in hopes of a possible career in bobber printing or some other use of 3D printer manufacturing.

Chapin sees a potential future in his fishing bobber plans, as the product not only won the most innovative award but was also the closest to being ready for manufacturing.

” …I’m still developing new bobbers and making new prototypes to find a handful of different bobbers that I could possibly propose to a company, or even my own company,” Chapin said. “The next step would be to start looking for patenting.”

Even with the possibilities of today’s 3D printers, both Letcher and Chapin believe there is still more to come from the growing technology.

“Today’s 3D printers are like computers in the early 1990’s – somewhat useful, very promising and very exciting,” Letcher said. “I truly think that 3D printing is the next new wave of manufacturing technology that will allow us to design and manufacture better products.”

Chapin is eager to see what 3D printers will be able to do in 10 years, as the current ones can already produce what a small assembly line can at a higher efficiency, according to Chapin.

“Bobber factories have 30 people working on them and with the 3D printer you have one person designing and printing the products,” Chapin said.

Letcher assisted the students with their business plan proposals, which were a part of the IAM3D competition, with weekly meetings that were optional.

“A customized 3D-printed fishing bobber is a great example of abilities and usefulness of current 3D printing technologies,” Letcher said.