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New 3-D lab brings prints to life

Photo by: Kody Kieler

Photo credit: Kody Kieler

Photo by: Kody Kieler
Written by: Zachary D. ElickMarch 01, 2017

The soft opening of IPFW’s first public 3-D printing lab, Mastodon MAKERLab, was three weeks ago. Located in room 224 of Walb Student Union, the lab allows students, faculty and staff to print small objects from one of its three 3-D printers free of charge for the rest of the spring semester.

“We thought it would be a good place because these windows are here, we’re close to student life (and) we’re close to food,” said Brian Spaulding, supervisor of end user technology support for Information Technology Services. “People come up to the lab and they can get involved, so we just wanted to throw it out here and basically test as we go.

Photo by: Kody Kieler The Mastodon MAKERLab is located in room 224 of Walb Student Union.

Photo by: Kody Kieler
The Mastodon MAKERLab is located in room 224 of Walb Student Union.

The lab will start charging a small fee at the beginning of the first summer semester in order to pay for the plastic material used in the 3-D printers, Spaulding said. ITS is considering using a pricing model similar to how the university currently tracts paper printing. A student could potentially be given a set amount of funds for 3-D printing they could add to when it runs out. But, the details have not been ironed out, he said.

Between the Spring and Summer semesters, glass walls will be built to isolate the MM from the rest of room 224 and two new “higher-end” 3-D printers will be installed, Spaulding said.

The glass walls are necessary to increase the security of the MM, which will be even more important once the two more expensive high definition printers are installed. The walls will also keep the noise, and sometimes smell, that the printers can make from bothering other students, Spaulding said.

One of the new “higher-end” printers is a full-color printer that uses layers of paper cut to specific dimensions to craft its 3-D objects. The MM will be one of the first places in the country to have a paper-based 3-D printer such as this, Spaulding said.

The three 3-D printers currently in the MM cost about $800 each, which is actually less than the price of a classroom projector, Spaulding said.

“We try to be innovative as an IT department. Running network cables and setting up projectors,  people don’t really see the value in a lot of that because it’s kind of boring,” Spaulding said. “But, we want to put this out to — not  be cutting edge — but to introduce the campus to something new.”

Photo by: Kody Kieler The new public 3-D printer lab, Mastodon MAKERLab, is a part of the Information Technology Services' effort to be "innovative," said Brian Spaulding, supervisor of end user technology support for ITS

Photo by: Kody Kieler
The Mastodon MAKERLab is a part of the Information Technology Services’ effort to be “innovative,” said Brian Spaulding, supervisor of end user technology support for ITS

Any student interested in using the 3-D printer can submit a request on the ticketing system of the ITS Self-Service website. Then the MAKERLab will respond, letting them know how long their object will take to print, said Garrett Martin, one of the labs three student technicians.

Since the soft opening, the MAKERLab has received about 50 printing requests, Martin said.

“(A lot of) things people just make for fun, but we also encourage people to make things for classes, like for physics class or chemistry, Martin said. “And they can find or create a model and we can print it out for classroom use.”

Using the 3-D printers, medical students have made models of bones and a team of engineering students made a prototype robot design that helped them receive a grant from the National Science Foundation, Spaulding said.

“(The MARKERLab) is open to any school, any student, any staff member … it’s certainly not just STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) students,” Spaulding said.

ITS got the idea to buy a 3-D printer a couple of years ago when they needed a part to upgrade hundreds of computers throughout the campus, Spaulding said. They realized it would be cheaper to buy a 3-D printer and make all the parts, than it would be to buy all the parts. After that, more and more people on campus wanted to use the printer, and ITS eventually decided that a public lab could be beneficial to the campus, he said.