In 1765, an instrument maker at the University of Glasgow named James Watt came up with a way of radically improving the efficiency of the Newcomen steam engine—a breakthrough that played a role in ushering in the Industrial Revolution. Today, 200 years after his death, the innovative JetX team from the University of Glasgow is honouring the inventor with the creation of a 3D printed miniature model of Watt’s steam engine.
The JetX team has been on our radar for some time. The group, an award-winning engineering society, is made up of students passionate about jet engines and their design. In 2017, for instance, JetX students partnered with 3D Hubs and Rolls Royce to create the world’s first functional 3D printed jet engine model, capable of providing instant design feedback. To commemorate the influence of James Watt, the JetX students have temporarily refocused their work from the skies to the track.
The students, along with Professor Colin McInnes, the James Watt Chair Engineering Science, have spent the past five months creating a scale model of a Boulton-Watt steam engine made up of more than 800 parts—more than 150 of which are 3D printed. The steam engine model showcases Watt’s groundbreaking invention: the addition of a separate condenser which drastically improved the transport vehicle’s efficiency in the 18th century.
The 3D printed model measures roughly a meter in length and is made up of over 2.2 km of 3D printing filament. (The 3D printed components of the steam engine model reportedly took about 845 hours!) Notably, the model is not only interesting to look at, but it actually functions. Unlike the original version—which ran on steam—the 3D printed miniature integrates an addition gear to move itself, demonstrating how the engine would have moved.
“The past five months have been very busy but we’re really pleased with the final model,” said Chris Triantafyllou, President of JetX. “The whole building process utilized a lot of design and prototyping practices we’ve learned throughout the years of developing jet engine models.
“The University of Glasgow is rightly proud of its association with James Watt, and his legacy helps make it an inspiring place to study. We’re glad we’ve had the chance to contribute to the University’s 200th anniversary celebrations, and we hope that visitors to the exhibition in the library get as much enjoyment out of it as we do.”
Professor Colin McInnes added: “The JetX team have achieved something remarkable with the construction of this model, which is a fitting tribute to the vision of James Watt in this bicentenary year. The engine is stunning, and credit to JetX for their imagination, dedication and diligence, not just in this project but also in their self-directed jet engine designs. The School of Engineering is keen to instil in students the importance of creative thinking in engineering, and JetX are a prime example of how creativity can inspire exciting new projects.”
The impressive scale model 3D printed by the JetX team will be on display at the University of Glasgow library as of today, as part of a public exhibition commemorating Watt’s life, achievements and legacy.