As a devout member of the cult of motorcycles, mechanic Josh Morrison had hit a wall in his career.
Morrison, who owns six dirt bikes and a drag-racing motorcycle, wanted to move on from being a mechanic in Medicine Hat, Alta., where he’s worked in both the Harley Davidson and Yamaha shops. He was hoping to get out of the garage and into design. “I always wanted to modify bikes to work better. That drove my interest in design and I later found out that was an actual course at the college,” says Morrison, 35.
So, in 2013, the dirt-track junkie applied for Medicine Hat College’s one-year computer-aided drafting and design (CADD) certificate program. The newly christened 3D printing lab was the big draw. Within a month of his first year he landed one of several internships, specifically aimed at encouraging students to explore 3D printing.
Through the CADD program, Morrison had a little bit of time in the lab, but the internship saw him helping professors exploring the limits of the new industrial 3D printer, about the size of a kiln, which uses plastic to make prototypes.
He recalls working on one project to create an ultra-thin 3D business card designed to show off what the printer could do in a bid to attract interest from the local business community. “We wanted to see if we could get the tech small enough to pass as a business card, but still get all the information on it,” he says. “I was a motorcycle mechanic, so just playing with machinery and fine-tuning it is kind of my thing.”
He landed a full-time job using his newfound skills—scanning and creating 3D model files to plug into printers—at Form-Tech Machining and Fabrication, designing everything from oil-industry drill bits to tire moulds for Goodyear. “Running multi-million-dollar machines was what I went to school for,” he says. “That same [computer] file to run the 3D printer is exactly what a five-axis CNC [computer numeric control] mill would use to cut the same piece out of aluminum. That’s the crossover. You’re able to actually prototype something for pennies on the dollar with the 3D printer, out of plastic.”
When Morrison decided to return to MHC for a second year to get his CADD technical illustrator diploma, he was given personal access to the 3D lab to tinker around. Along with the 3D printer he bought himself for Christmas, he started creating custom motorcycle parts. “I was able to take a cylinder head off of a motorcycle and 3D-scan that, and then bring it back and work with my own printer,” he says.
One pet project was an ignition cover for a dirt bike’s key hole, printed with what Morrison calls “Lego plastic” (ABS, or acrylonitrile butadiene styrene). “It did eventually fail at the end of the season, but that was to be expected,” he says of the part. “It was actually a fairly robust piece and it surprised me.” After graduating in 2015, Morrison relegated his passion for motorcycles to his spare time. “I went into college wanting to learn how to design motorcycle parts. But it’s not like there are a million jobs out there for it.” He now has an “amazing job” at Meggitt Training Systems in Medicine Hat, where he designs and creates full-scale unmanned vehicles for NATO affiliates to use in target practice. “I’ve got the best of both worlds—I get to design things in the engineering department, or I can go down to the shop and turn a wrench,” Morrison says. “That internship did wonders for me, career-wise.”