3D Printing Coming to OSU

Several weeks ago, I stopped by the Penfield Library technology display table and learned about the various technologies offered by Penfield for student usage, such as iPods, e-readers, etc., and discovered we would soon have communal access to one of the newer models of hobbyist 3D printers, the MakerBot Replicator 2. Since then, I have spoken with Learning Technologies Librarian Emily Thompson about the details of the program and walked away very excited at the plans they are working on.

What is 3D printing you might wonder? 3-D printing sounds like a term from Star Trek but it is in fact a very real, extremely exciting technology that is gaining traction around the world. 3-D printing involves creating an object one layer of material at a time; each consecutive layer fused to the ones beneath it until a complete physical object has been produced from a computer file.

The technology itself was initially developed in 1984 and until recently it was used almost exclusively by architects and engineers to prototype their designs. As the cost of the printers have fallen from tens of thousands of dollars to right around $500 today for the cheapest hobbyist models, we’re seeing a great deal of media buzz surrounding this growing industry.

While printers have dropped in price and have become easier to use, many resources have been developed to allow individuals or groups to create and share the 3-D model files used to print. This is a very helpful development, as not everyone has the skill or the time to design detailed models. Websites like Thingiverse.com and Shapeways.com have become repositories for everything from an iPod Nano bracelet to a ring in the shape of a Tardis from the popular show Doctor Who.

Oswego is one of the first academic libraries in the U.S. to adopt a 3-D printing program (the only other one I could find direct mention of online was the University of Nevada, Reno). This comes on the heels of the Fayetteville Free Library of Fayetteville, N.Y. developing their own “Fab Lab,” a publicly accessible maker space where patrons can learn how to use equipment like 3D printers, audio/video editing tools, etc.

Penfield Library received a grant via Campus Technology Services called a Technology Initiative Grant to purchase and provide a 3-D printer for use by students, faculty, staff and the Oswego community at large; and they did so in early January. The hope is to teach about a technology that might be almost as commonplace as a DVD player by the start of the 2020s, an estimate based on several years of research in the industry.

Penfield intends to allow students to submit the 3-D model file in a form online, select options such as color, whether the object will be solid or contain a honeycomb structure (which is lighter and cheaper), etc. and the user will be notified when their object is ready to be picked up.

“I’ve been interested in getting a MakerBot since I started here,” Thompson said. “It’s such an interesting technology and I really can’t wait to see what our students will do with it. Penfield’s mission is ‘Where Ideas, Learning, and Innovation connect.’ Getting a 3-D printer fits all three of those ideals.”

While the timeline has not been finalized, the library is hard at work positioning to provide this new resource. Thompson is hopeful that the finer details of the program will be worked out and the service will be available sometime after spring break.

Could there be potential for product design courses future? What a fantastic way to introduce students to the process of product design at an appropriate technical level for individuals without formal training in engineering and materials science. It’s easy to imagine how this one additional service added to our campus community could enhance the value of our time spent here as students.

While the end products may not be quite “store bought” quality, the ability to create art, design trinkets and prototype right here on campus is extremely exciting and incredibly useful.

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