3D Printing Pilot Program Flies Itself!

In Spring 2019 the Library piloted a new 3D print program and it was a huge success.

To use the library 3D printer under the old procedure students needed to submit an .STL file to me (Tim Bostelle, the Head of Library IT) via email. I would then decide if the object could be printed, if it needed to be redesigned, or just schedule it for printing. There might be some back and forth exchange of ideas but usually I just printed the jobs. The student would come pick the object up and that would be the end of the interaction.

But after attending the ISAM 2018 maker conference in Stanford I learned that a lot of maker-spaces were student run. And I learned that with a few simple safety instructions and some training on how to print using our machine students could be trusted to print on their own. So, in Spring 2019 the library changed the rules.

The result was an immediate uptick in interest from students and faculty. Dr. Vanderpool’s math class were the first students to be trained on the machine. They were given an assignment to create a 3D model, print a prototype, edit the model, and print a final model for their class. Most of the students used tinkercad to create their models and if you’re interested in learning about 3D modeling, they have a host of awesome tutorials to get you started.

But soon, more students were asking for training and I offered several session in spring quarter to get as many students as possible on board. By the end of the quarter we had well over 120 print jobs created by students and printed by students.

One of my favorite jobs of the quarter was when one group of students created 3D models from LIDAR data. This group mapped the area around Tacoma, from Mt. Rainier to the port of Tacoma. Each map was printed and then painstakingly colored to make a pretty realistic looking map!

3D Print of LIDAR data from Mt. Rainier to Tacoma

The lessons I learned from this project were:

  • Trust the students to be good caretakers of the equipment and act responsibly
  • Students love peer-to-peer teaching, students were often seen gathered around the printer talking about their prints and how to make them better
  • By getting out of the way (not being the go-between for the print jobs) I unleashed student creativity and productivity
  • Students had a lot more fun (ok so this isn’t objective but based on my conversations with the students they seemed to have more fun)!
  • The printer was used a lot more

In Fall quarter, the library is going to continue this program with one little twist: thanks to your Student Tech Fees you all are are getting a brand new Prusa i3 3D printer. This printer is self levelling and comes with removable PEI spring steel print sheets. In order to uncork the bottleneck that sometimes happens when one student’s job is on the build plate and another student wants to print, the Library will check out the print sheet (which is the bed you print on) and students will be able to remove the last person’s job when it’s done and start their own.

Look for announcements soon for when the library will be holding some training sessions for students. Most sessions will be held in the fall but there might be some late summer sessions as well!


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