The growing popularity of 3D printers may make traditional craftsmanship seem a thing of the past. But for those without access to one—and those who just prefer to make things by hand—PVC pipe is the perfect alternative.
PVC is a thermal-forming plastic, says Ying Sun, M.S. ’82, professor of electrical, computer and biomedical engineering, which simply means that if you heat it up, it will get soft, then harden again as it cools. Sun uses a hair dryer to make PVC pipes “as soft as Play-Doh,” then flattens the PVC into a sheet, cuts it into a shape, and forms it into a finished product. He teaches engineering students to make whatever parts they need this way: clips to attach batteries to circuit boards, safety equipment so children with disabilities can enjoy ride-on toys, and even an entire custom wheelchair for a paralyzed dog. In his new class, “Technologies and Music,” his students will make PVC flutes.
PVC is not just useful in the classroom. Sun made a long-handled shoehorn, for instance, so he can put his shoes on while standing up, as well as a paper-towel holder and clips to mount flashlights and other tools in his workroom. He has even seen PVC archery bows. Best of all, he points out, it’s cheap and available. The only limit is your imagination.