Strategic Plan in Action: 3D printing

3D printing, or additive manufacturing, has grown from a small scale novelty of engineers to a ubiquitous technology approaching affordability for anyone. You may see 3D printed objects included in arts and crafts, used to repair appliances and other household hardware, and even as parts of the car you drive.

3D printing can involve plastic, metal, or even living cells. The “additive” part of additive manufacturing means layers of material are slowly deposited on top of each other until a 3D object is produced.  These are “printed” from a 3D computer model, which can be created from simple shapes or a complex CAD drawing. Penn State graduates use 3D printing in their jobs
from Boeing aircraft to local manufacturing to high-tech startup companies.

Students are learning both the software and hardware skills in courses offered by the Colleges of Engineering, Liberal Arts, and many more.  In the past only architecture and engineering students had access to 3D printing for specific courses, but thanks to a partnership between the Libraries and ITS, it is available to all students, staff, and faculty.

The Maker Commons, located at University Park in Pattee Library’s Knowledge Commons, has been offering free 3D printing since the Spring of 2016. It serves all Penn State campuses through an online submission form and delivery throughout the state through our lending services.

The Strategic Planning Action Team of Joe Fennewald, Ryan Wetzel, Trace Brown, and John
Meier have tracked the successes and challenges of the Maker Commons and other makerspaces across the University Libraries.

Since its launch just over a year ago, the Maker Commons has produced over 2,000 objects per semester from the 32 MakerBot printers on site. The success rate of these prints has improved from 70% to 90%, through changes including a weight limit for non-class projects. Almost half of the printouts each semester are for class-specific assignments from the Colleges of IST, Engineering, Arts and Architecture, and EMS. There were also a number of classes from Commonwealth Campuses using the Maker Commons for student projects.

Indeed, 3D printing and scanning technology have a large and growing presence throughout the Libraries.  In the Spring of 2017, the Harrell Health Sciences Library in Hershey dedicated its renovated Research and Learning Commons with twin 3D printers, virtual reality headsets, and other new technology.

Penn State Wilkes-Barre has offered free 3D printing to their local campus community since 2015.  Penn State Hazleton Library has offered 3D printing and makerspace programs since 2014 in conjunction with course curricula and campus activities.  Penn State Mont Alto Library also has a 3D resin printer from Formlabs. Penn State Schuylkill Library has a 3D printer (MakerBot 5th generation replicator) as well as a NextEngine 3D scanner. The Engineering
Library at University Park has a portable 3D scanner to create models of real
world objects.

Other Commonwealth Campuses and University Park branch libraries are exploring possible makerspaces tailored to their unique user needs.  The Maker Commons is also constantly improving their procedures for faster output and more efficient use of material. We are “making” the future at Penn State in the University Libraries.

– submitted by John Meier