What is 3D Printing?

Known in industrial circles as rapid prototyping, 3D printing refers to technologies that construct physical objects from three-dimensional (3D) digital content such as 3D modeling software, computer-aided design (CAD) tools, computer-aided tomography (CAT), and X-ray crystallography. A 3D printer builds a tangible model or prototype from the electronic file, one layer at a time, through an extrusion-like process using plastics and other flexible materials, or an inkjet-like process to spray a bonding agent onto a very thin layer of fixable powder. The deposits created by the machine can be applied very accurately to build an object from the bottom up, layer by layer, with resolutions that, even in the least expensive machines, are more than sufficient to express a large amount of detail. The process even accommodates moving parts within the object. Using different materials and bonding agents, color can be applied, and parts can be rendered in plastic, resin, metal, tissue, and even food. This technology is commonly used in manufacturing to build prototypes of almost any object (scaled to fit the printer, of course) that can be conveyed in three dimensions.

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(1) How might this technology be relevant to academic and research libraries?

  • Libraries can add three useful dimensions to 3D printing on academic campuses. One, we can provide the necessary support. They are sensitive machines that require expertise to operate successfully on a consistent daily basis. Beyond that, we can, as we do in so many ways with existing services, level the playing field by making such new technologies available to all, not only faculty and students in select programs. Last, by being expert at printing, we enable our users to focus their energies on 3D modeling, which is both a very useful as well as difficult to learn skill. In this regard, it's akin to operating a public 'paper' printing service. Students don't need or want to know how they work; they should focus instead on writing their papers and creating their projects. Those in libraries who dismiss 3D printers as gimmicks are rarely those who work closely with them; our experience has been anything but trivial in terms of impact. - askeyd askeyd Nov 2, 2016 Agree. Maybe most important is the modeling part. Most of the time users lack the necessary skills to model the idea they want to print. - Laurents.Sesink Laurents.Sesink Nov 12, 2016
  • Perhaps the role of the library then would be to provide the "how to" create something and print it. Not industrial as mentioned above but prototypical, objects for projects or presentations, etc. - mstephens7 mstephens7 Nov 13, 2016

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • There's perhaps a need to distinguish between the sort of 3D printing likely to be found in libraries compared to that found elsewhere on campus. We have 3D print facilities on campus that are industrial/research strength - we could never justify the space needed to house these. I like to think of a network of 3D-printing spaces on campus with the library providing entry-level facilities and training, with connections to support a progression to more advanced technology as and when needed.
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(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on academic and research libraries?

  • Policy issues and appropriate use concerns surrounding the use of 3D printers are very important as academic and research libraries provide opportunities for patrons to access 3D printers. - MarwinBritto MarwinBritto Oct 19, 2016 Agreed, but happily I can report that after two years of operating a public 3D printing service, appropriate use has not been an issue. We have a simple statement, and people abide by it. - askeyd askeyd Nov 2, 2016
  • Inline with software and data carpentry their could be a need for 3Dmodelling carpentry. - Laurents.Sesink Laurents.Sesink Nov 12, 2016

(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

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