3D Printing in the Library

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Books, journals, databases, course reserves, computers, spaces to study and collaborate…  What more can the UW Tacoma Library offer you?  How about 3D printing?  Library staff, with both Art and Geospatial Technologies instructors, are working on it…

Following a faculty inquiry in the fall of 2014, staff at the UW Tacoma Library conducted a literature review to assess current practices for 3D printing in academic and public libraries.  Tim Bostelle, Head of Information Technology at the UW Tacoma Library, and librarian Suzanne Klinger considered how 3D printers are being used at other institutions to support learning and innovation.  They then identified instructors at UWT that they thought might be most interested in 3D printing, and invited them to participate in a pilot project.

To prepare for the pilot, Tim attended several 3D printing classes in Seattle and Tacoma.  In the summer of 2015, the UW Tacoma Library also invested in a FlashForge Creator Pro 3D printer and several spools of PLA print material, in order to experiment and learn how to demo the process for the pilot, which began in the fall.

In September 2015, the 3D printer was exhibited at the library open house organized to welcome our new director.  Showing off the printer’s capabilities at the event generated buzz among faculty, students, and alumni.  As a result, we installed the software program Mathematica on all of the library’s computers, and Tim set about learning to generate print objects from math functions.

Recently, library staff met with the faculty participating in the pilot project to discuss the printer’s capabilities and limitations.  It could be used to create custom art designs, parts for robots, landscape modeling for environmental science classes, surfaces created using Mathematica, and more.  Some limitations include long print times, the printer’s small print bed, and the lack of a 3D design class on campus.

But the group has also brainstormed some amazing projects that are about to take flight:  Britta Ricker and Jim Thatcher, UWT Urban Studies professors that teach Geospatial Technologies, will use a drone to scan the Pinkerton Building on campus and then work with Tim Bostelle to print it.  Art instructor Tyler Budge will work with Tim, too, to print a bubble wand for one of his projects – first they will create a small piece, gradually scaling it up to use for a large sculpture.  After these projects, we plan to work with a small class or a group of graduate students to see how the creation of custom 3D objects can be utilized in student projects.

The UW Tacoma Library is excited about these pilot projects and the potential to transform the learning experience for UW Tacoma students.  We are considering several different models in order to provide a sustainable and scalable 3D printing program for our community.

How would you use 3D printing at the UW Tacoma Library?  How do you think 3D printing could fit into your class projects?  Let us know!  Email tbostell@uw.edu.                                                                                                                

Written by: 
J. Angela Wiehagen / January 31, 2016
Media contact: 

Tim Bostelle - tbostell@uw.edu