3D Printing Archive Acquired by Penn State

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Ennex Research has had an eye on the future since 1975, evolving over the years to have a strong focus on advanced technology like 3D printing, along with other important subjects like human issues. The Ennex archive of artifacts and resources was acquired by Penn State in 2018, and now they have published a finding aid to be used by university students, teachers, researchers, as well as the general public.

Over the past two years, Penn State has been curating over 20,000 items in the archives, which Matt Francis, former associate head of Special Collections, refers to as “a cohesive ecosystem of the history of the technology.” The archive includes everything from actual fabricated artifacts to print resources, and even experimental materials from the Ennex development lab.

Briefcase used to show capabilities of digital fabrication in client meetings, 1994.

Penn State has already earned a reputation as a “premier university for 3D printing,” along with research and teaching. Currently, there are eight 3D printing classes being offered at the university, centered around digital fabrication processes, design, materials, and more. An undergraduate specialty in 3D printing and a cross-disciplinary master’s program in Additive Manufacturing & Design are currently being developed too, connecting five different departments.

Nine different institutions initially expressed interest in the archive, all who realized the intense value of the materials, along with understanding the history involved and the connection with other disciplines. Other organizations interested included: The Smithsonian Institute, the Computer History Museum, the 3DP Museum, and the Museum of Design in Plastics.

“This is an exciting collection that fits the mission of our new 3D printing lab. Our faculty are excited that a collection like this exists. It answers the ‘why’ question – helping to explain where the technology comes from,” said Athena Jackson, head of Special Collections for the university at the time of the acquisition.

Boasting over a hundred 3D printers on campus, the university owns a wide variety of hardware—from open-source RepRap 3D printers that may cost as little as $500 to metal printers that may cost over a million dollars.

“What a far cry from the early days, when it was extraordinary for any university to have just one machine!” said Ennex founder Marshall Burns.

Comprised of 90 items, the archive began in 1991, documenting the evolution of 3D printers by 20 companies and labs from around the world, all using different techniques. The archive also contains:

  • Over 300 books and periodicals (totaling 23,000 pages)
  • Every print issue of the Rapid Prototyping Report
  • Dozens of videotapes
  • Over 500 photographic slides
  • Confidential reports from consulting clients
  • Confidential documents from Ennex, such as business plans, machine designs, customer presentations (totaling over 12,000 digital files)

“What is interesting here is that it provides, literally, solid evidence of where things stood in the 1990s. The artifacts show what people were making,” said Burns.

“The conference proceedings show in great detail what ideas people were working on to improve the technology and what results they were getting. The client reports and our Board of Customers videos provide a unique glimpse into the heretofore secret business meetings of the time.”

Discover more about the contents of the archives by using the finding aid.

Jennifer Meehan, Penn State’s new head of Special Collections, will be managing the archive:

“The Ennex Corporation records represent an important resource for studying the history of printing and technology. This collection significantly adds to the Penn State Libraries’ growing collections in the area of science and technology and offers exciting opportunities for engaging students and researchers through classes, exhibits, and events, both physical and virtual.”

Penn State continues to make headlines regarding 3D printing, from collaborations with big names in the industry like 3D Systems, to encouraging startups, and delving into further progressive techniques and materials like 4D printing.

What do you think of this news? Let us know your thoughts; join the discussion of this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com.

[Source / Images: Ennex]

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