3D printing has changed the way people learn and the way engineering and other design industries quickly get ideas into something tangible. With the fast adoption of these exciting technologies, we’ve seen some recurring problems:
- The machine is left in the hands of one or two individuals who took the time to read all the manuals.
- Others in the school/college/university/business have similar needs, but either don’t know these machines are available to them or fear the learning curve.
- Operating 3D printers can be expensive and to ensure fair access to all, students either need to stick to a limited quota or are restricted in some form.
- 3D printer equipment is fragile and casual student access is not appropriate in many environments. It needs to be limited to trained individuals or lab operators.
Over the past five years, PaperCut software has worked with a number of leading colleges and universities to design a system and set of practices that address many of these problems. There are four key areas that staff should consider to ensure 3D printing is accessible to all students.
|Availability||If 3D printers are the sole domain of the people who are trained and trusted to use them, 3D printing is seen as an elite or often unattainable resource. These printers need to be made available to students of all levels, giving them an equal opportunity to learn. By treating the 3D fab lab as a ‘print room’, users of any level can submit their job and have an expert print it for them, and often learn from feedback during the process.|
|Job submission||In a 2D print world, it is often as easy as pressing Ctrl+P to print a job. That is until you want to start using specialty services such as gloss covers, binding, and non-standard paper sizes. 3D printing is more like a specialty service.Having a simple way for students to specify and submit their job options (like color and material type), ensures the full array of printing services are available to all.|
|Workflow management||Lab operators are often stretched for time and there is often, during peak times, more demand than the 3D printers can manage. (We’ve seen some jobs take half a day to finish!).Having a system that automates job priorities, notifies students of the job status, and manages billing avoids those queues of students asking “Is it finished yet?".|
|Cost control||The old adage of “If you give students something for free they’ll abuse it” stands true for 3D printing, too. Limiting students to a reasonable print quota or a pay-for-print environment ensures all students have an equal opportunity to use the fab lab.Most schools, colleges, and universities already have a policy for ‘2D printing’, hence sharing the same systems and approach for 3D printing saves time and resources.|
In this section, we share our knowledge about 3D printing and how to get the most out of your fab lab. Most of this information has come from the wonderful schools and colleges that worked with us through 2018 beta testing and code developing our 3D print management approach.