When Jacob Larson was able to find someone online to pay about a hundred bucks for a 1/64th-scale semi-truck he put together with some parts in his parents’ basement in Breckenridge, MN, and painted “a little bit wrong,” he was hooked on engineering. He was 16.
Fast forward a few years and Larson graduated from farm toys to ginormous ag equipment and medical lab devices. He just earned a degree in Manufacturing Engineering from North Dakota State University and relocated to Waterloo, Iowa, to work as a machining engineer at John Deere.
At NDSU, he worked on graduate level research, some of which involved dental implants. He built a self-contained apparatus to test biological systems like those found in mice, rats and humans. That dynamic bioreactor, whose trade name is Cellulation, would facilitate faster and less costly development of pharmaceuticals, cardiovascular devices, or implants by replicating in vivo conditions in the laboratory so that at least some of the small animal testing taking place today could be eliminated.
His research team at NDSU has applied for patent protection, as well as grants to continue the research “at a much higher level” and to get the device ready for commercialization, he said.
In addition to classwork, Larson built his engineering knowledge interacting with two lab instructors, his mentor and academic advisor, David Wells, NDSU students in biochemistry and microbiology, a Mayo Clinic researcher and about a dozen other professors on campus and off campus.
The first credit for his finding engineering intriguing goes to his dad, he said.
Larson would tag along with his father on weekends and during school breaks as the elder Larson worked with farmers to “come up with creative solutions in the field” to fix farm equipment on the fritz.
“What got me interested in engineering in general was coming up with solutions to problems off the cuff of your shirt,” he said.
His shop teacher, as well as his physics and chemistry teacher, in high school also encouraged him to be a maker.
Today, Larson knows it’s important to “find something you are really passionate about—something you are proud of,” he said. “Engineering, creating and designing is not just about the math; it is also about beauty and the creation of something that can better society.”
Larson is enthralled by turning ideas into reality.
“It’s a skill I have that a lot of people don’t have or think is voodoo science,” he said. “But it just takes training and practice and time and education.”
He recently designed and 3D printed a 1/64th -scale Geringhoff corn header for a combine for farm models, for a customer who had the idea for a new product but lacked the design and 3D printing skills needed.
“He does the assembly and sales, but I am the engineering lead,” Larson said. “It was really cool to help him bring an idea into a product he’s really passionate about, too.”
Additive manufacturing is “definitely going to be big business,” Larson said.
“Even other processes I think are going to be more social,” he added. “You are seeing a lot of these household 3D printers, but I even think household CNC machines will start to become more prevalent now that 3D printing has allowed the software to be so user-friendly.”
This article was first published in the July 2016 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Read all of the 2016 30 Under 30 Profiles as a PDF.