A Brigham Young University Ph.D. candidate is using his expertise in mechanical engineering to develop a product meant to inspire creativity and support children’s interest in STEM.
Originally from the Bear Lake area on the Idaho-Utah border, Bryan Stringham moved to Utah County in 2014 to pursue an education at BYU after earning his bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering at Utah State University.
Since the move, Stringham has completed a master’s degree and is in his fourth year of the mechanical engineering Ph.D. program at the private, religious institution.
In March, the Ph.D. candidate also founded Impact Creativity, a limited liability company with a mission to create a positive impact through products that support creativity. The company’s flagship product is one that Stringham began developing only one week into the coronavirus lockdown.
Since then, Stringham has spent the last five months, and over 1,500 hours 3-D printing and developing a game — called MagTrax — meant to provide entertainment and foster creativity in children.
Throughout the process of designing and refining the game’s pieces, Stringham has used about 1.8 miles of 3-D printing filament to round out the finished product.
“One of the most fulfilling things I’ve felt from this whole process is seeing kids’ faces light up and the cheering when that happens as they work to build a really cool track and seeing it work,” he said. “That makes the countless hours and late nights developing it over these last 5 months worth it.”
MagTrax is a patent-pending, 3-D printed marble track that uses modular, magnetic pieces to allow children to make their own courses.
The idea for MagTrax began in Stringham’s own home where he was looking for a clutter-free way to get his son, nieces and nephews to reduce their screen time during quarantine.
“I just realized for us, as well as our boy, it’s just too easy to spend time in front of our screens,” he said. “On top of that, there’s a lot of clutter with other toys, so I started looking into designing something for him using my background in product design and engineering that would help with that.”
Stringham began printing the pieces with one 3-D printer in his own home and has quickly collected four others to help speed up the process.
3-D printing was the best possible way to create the game’s pieces, he said, because it allows Stringham to create shapes that are almost impossible to produce any other way. It also ensures the magnetic aspect of each track won’t fall off because they are printed into the connectors with no possibility of coming loose.
MagTrax is meant to be mounted to walls or refrigerators to clear up the clutter associated with other, similar products. The pieces are magnetic, so they do not need to be drilled into place and can be easily swapped so the course is constantly changing.
“We’ve had other car tracks, but the problem with that is they’re in the middle of your floor and they’re there for as long as you maybe want to use them,” Stringham said. “I was hoping to design something that wouldn’t add to the mess but also gets kids away from screens and encourage more creativity and problem solving, which I feel this product does.”
After creating his own set for his family, Stringham received a lot of feedback and interest from friends and neighbors and worked meticulously to refine his original design in hopes of manufacturing the product in an economically friendly manner for other kids around the world.
To help fund the business venture, Stringham launched a Kickstarter campaign on Aug. 25. In less than a week, the campaign had amassed $6,346 between 67 backers as of Monday. With 23 days left in the campaign, Stringham said it is well on its way to being fully funded.
The project will only be funded if it reaches its $10,000 goal by Sept. 24 2020 at 8:01 a.m.
The money raised through the online campaign will be used to create a 3-D print farm in Provo. The 3-D print farm will allow Impact Creativity to mass produce MagTrax pieces outside of the traditional supply chain.
“The other exciting part of this is that we’ll be able to do it right here in Provo with employees that we hire here while having a little bit more control over supply chain in the event of disruptions that we’ve seen over the last eight or nine months,” Stringham said.
Using a 3-D print farm, Stringham is able to source all of the materials used to build the pieces — including the printing filament — within the United States in an effort to avoid international shortages or delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
“The bulk of our raw materials are made here in the U.S., so we’re hopeful that, despite any waves that may come again, we’ll be resilient to continue to manufacture these,” he said.
For the time being, Stringham said MagTrax is in an optimal position with all of the pieces already designed and tested. As soon as the Kickstarter campaign ends, Impact Creativity will have the funds necessary to invest in additional 3-D printers and can begin production almost immediately.
Looking to the future, Stringham said he hopes MagTrax will play a vital role in not only helping children step away from their screens but also foster students’ interest in STEM in a fun and creative way.
“We don’t want to just settle with being a small thing,” he said. “We feel like it has enough benefit and enough potential that many thousands could benefit from it and use it.”
Stringham has plans to continue to develop the product so that it can reach hundreds of thousands of children across the world every year.