Some of the most remarkable and innovative achievements in 3D design and printing are happening in the academic environment, including collaborative efforts between academia and industry. While preserving the long-standing tradition of drawing from and building on thousands of years of knowledge is a core goal of the academic world, the imperative to foster technological advancement, to be mindful of embracing progress is equally as critical. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has found a way to make cutting-edge technology available to all of its students in a more widespread and practical way.
The Kenan Science Library at UNC Chapel Hill has created its own Makerspace as part of its University Libraries’ Research Hub. Students, faculty, and staff can use the facility as long as they have an active UNC library card. The Makerspace is staffed with students who can assist inexperienced makers, whether students or faculty.
In an effort to integrate 3D design and printing technology into the lives of its students and faculty, the Makerspace encourages use of the facility and equipment for both personal and academic use, although academic projects are given priority over personal ones. Students, faculty, and staff can submit 3D printing requests via the Research Hub’s website or they can bring ideas, requests, or files into the lab to produce themselves on site. All materials are free as long as the projects fall within the parameters of the Makerspace’s rules — no commercial projects are permitted. The 3D printing effort has been funded by a Library Innovation Grant and a Student Library Advisory Board grant, which make the free service possible.
The Research Hub has four 3D printers available for use: A Makerbot Replicator 2, a MakerBot Replicator 2X, and two MakerBot Replicator Minis. The lab also has a NextEngine 3D Scanner if users want to generate their designs on site, with or without the assistance of a student tech. Also available are Arduino and Raspberry Pi Starter Packs and the Research Hub provides users with the option of accessing a variety of software from Blender and MakerBot MakerWare to MeshLab, OpenSCAD, and SketchUp. Because the Research Hub uses a variety of 3D printers, they can offer users a range of choices, including printing objects up to 11” high. The MakerBot Replicator 2X also allows for two-color printing.
While academic projects are given top priority, the Makerspace does encourage students, faculty, and staff to use the lab for personal projects. One UNC graduate student, Jeffrey Olander, has done just that. He’s taken advantage of the Makerspace to create new parts for his wheelchair, including printing a new seat and a part for his chair’s joystick. He emphasized how convenient it was to be able to produce the new parts on campus rather than going through the time-consuming process of ordering the parts to be shipped and dealing with his insurance company, which should cover the costs of the parts. In fact, users at the lab are encouraged to consider the myriad of ways in which the 3D printing lab can make their everyday lives easier in addition to being an invaluable resource for academic projects.
Let’s hear your thoughts on this story in the UNC Chapel Hill 3D Printing forum thread on 3DPB.com.