Manufacturing the Holidays

Red 3D printed snowflake ornaments and one circular ornament that reads 'imagine'

btc-tree-04Some might refer to artificial Christmas trees as being “manufactured” trees but when you really want a MANUFACTURED tree, turn to the faculty at Eastern Iowa Community Colleges’ Blong Technology Center (BTC).

The entire BTC faculty joined together to create a one-of-a-kind stainless steel tree for entry into the upcoming Quad Cities Festival of Trees.

Check out the QC Times story

“Last May I was in a discussion about Additive Manufacturing and 3D Printing when I mentioned it would be neat to have an entry in the Festival of Trees, where a tree would be decorated with all 3D printed ornaments,” said Mechanical Design faculty member Brad McConnell. “That comment was echoed to others and at some point the idea grew into a totally manufactured tree created here at the BTC and the games began.”

btc-tree-02McConnell and Honors Student Gail Ray designed the tree using SolidWorks parametric modeling software, the primary mechanical design software used by students at the BTC. He said that made it easier for modifications to be made as other faculty provided input regarding what would work best in their specific area in creation of the tree.

“The tree itself is made from various sized stainless steel tubing,” said McConnell. “The tubing was TIG welded and hand polished and there are collars welded to the trunk at specified locations to allow the branches to be affixed. The branches are inserted into holes in the collars that allow wiring for the lights to be fished through from the branches into the trunk of the tree.”


btc-tree-01The tree features various forms of LED lighting including lights at the ends of the main branches as well as lights illuminating the tree from the base.

The stand is made from aluminum and the ornaments are either 3D printed, machined from aluminum or brass, or a combination of both printed and machined components. The tree without the ornaments weighs just over 40 lbs. The ornaments could add as much as another 20 to 30 pounds to the overall weight.

btc-tree-03A tremendous amount of time, all volunteered, has gone into the tree’s creation. The hand polishing of the branches, the 3D printing and machining of the ornaments and wiring of the lights all required countless hours of commitment.

“We have been working on the tree for a little more than a month,” McConnells said. “Without being part of this whole thing and really seeing it first-hand, it’s hard to get a feel for the work the folks involved have put into this project. It’s pretty cool stuff.”

Involved in the project include:

  1. Gail Ray (Student)
  2. Brad McConnell (Mechanical Design)
  3. Bruce Baldwin (Welding)
  4. Greg Robb (CNC machining)
  5. Craig Nelson (Renewable Energy)
  6. Dennis Seaman (Engineering Technology)
  7. Steve Harfst (Engineering Technology)
  8. Pat Rosenberg (Machining)
  9. Cathy Jepson (Administrative Support)

The Festival of Trees is a fundraiser for Quad City Arts. It will be held November 16 – 26 at the River Center in downtown Davenport.


The Blong Technology Center is a modern advanced manufacturing training center. The facility’s learning environment, labs and instructors are focused on real-world, hands-on career preparation.

btc-tree-05The BTC offers a unique class structure allowing students who are currently working to fit training around their personal schedules. Most classes are delivered in eight-week sections and provide students the ability to move at their own pace.

The center recently received the national Next Generation Leadership Award for its innovative practices in preparing students for careers. The college joined such elite companies as Dow Chemical, IBM, Honeywell, Lexmark, Owens Corning and others in receiving the award.

Advanced manufacturing jobs are growing in today’s economy including in such area as logistics, electromechanics, renewable energy, mechanical and computer aided design, CNC machining (computer numeric control) and welding. Training for all of those careers is readily available at BTC.

Author: alaneastern

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