logoWhat began as a few headlines and whispers over the past couple of years is gearing up into a full-fledged movement and hopefully, a subsequent widespread trend as university and public libraries and other entities like museums begin to embrace 3D printing and offer it to students and communities free of charge, for the most part.

While the idea of offering 3D printing services at a public or university library is a noble endeavor and one certainly not to be scoffed at these days (this may not have been the case a year ago) as the technology has more than validated itself as one having worldwide impact on many levels, bringing in 3D printing services entails not only buying and plugging in some equipment.

Setting up a 3D printing lab, workshop, or maker area anywhere requires some thought. And it also requires the one element that often shoots down the whole prospect of offering 3D printing services in any type of literacy-oriented or educational venue: staff have to be trained from A to Z in the fundamentals of design, 3D scanning, 3D printing, and maintenance of the machines. A program has to be put in place to handle the waiting list of designers aching to get their hands on the 3D printing equipment, protocol for charges of materials, and workshops and different training sessions must be set up for the public.

MakerBot is aware of the comprehensive package it takes for an institution to integrate a streamlined 3D printing workshop area as well as a successful, inviting introduction for their future makers, who are bound to be quite enthusiastic. This is a crucial way for 3D printing to shine in local learning institutions and communities, and a way to begin teaching those who come into the 3D printing arena knowing nothing, as well as accommodating local innovators and designers who cannot afford to purchase equipment.

Introducing 3D printers through venues like libraries is simply the beginning of creating maker communities — one by one. And those one-by-ones have now grown into the hundreds, with MakerBot 3D printers in a multitude of libraries.

“An increasing number of libraries throughout the U.S. offer 3D printing services as a way to foster creativity and entrepreneurship,” said Johan-Till Broer, Public Relations Manager of MakerBot. “To date, MakerBot 3D printers and scanners are in an estimated 500 libraries nationwide.”

We report on many stories where students of all levels have either worked individually to make innovative 3D prototypes or have worked in groups and classes to create larger-scale 3D printed models, as well as participating in countless competitions.

UMass_Amherst_W.E.B._Dubois_Library_night_2

UMass Amhert W.E.B. Du Bois Library, at night

Today, the UMass Amherst library is embracing this in an “unprecented way,” according to MakerBot. They are currently working with MakerBot in setting up the first large-scale 3D printing MakerBot Innovation Center at a university library — the Du Bois Library, which will boast its own Digital Media Lab, with the grand opening on March 26th.

MakerBot consultants are working with faculty in setting up the center, as well as offering them comprehensive training workshops from MakerBot experts.

“The MakerBot Innovation Center ties in firmly with the campus’s personality of being entrepreneurial and community engaged and will allow us to work more closely with the local business community,” said Jay Schafer, director of libraries at UMass Amherst. “Having a large-scale installation of MakerBot 3D Printers makes this resource more broadly available on campus and puts UMass Amherst at the forefront of technological innovation. The MakerBot Innovation Center will help bridge the gap between the digital and the physical realm, so students can turn designs into 3D physical objects and prototypes.”

It’s anticipated that the Innovation Center will attract designs from teachers and those involved in research, as well as a flood of students majoring in areas like business, architecture, engineering, and science. Students will have both the encouragement and the tools to embark on developing concepts, designs and 3D printing prototypes.  The center will house 50 MakerBot 3D printers in total, with:

  • 35 MakerBot Replicator Desktop 3D printers
  • 5 MakerBot Replicator Z18 3D printers
  • 5 MakerBot Replicator 2X Experimental Desktop 3D printers
  • 5 MakerBot Replicator Mini Compact 3D printers
  • MakerBot Innovation Center Management Platform, linking all the 3D printers
  • A large supply of MakerBot PLA filament
  • Several MakerBot Digitizer Desktop 3D scanners
  • MakerBot MakerCare protection plans

oneThe administration also hopes that the 3D printing center will foster collaboration between students majoring in different studies, offering diversity and added learning while in the process of innovating with 3D printing. Schafer stated that an environmental conservation faculty group, along with building and construction technology, biology, public health, public policy, and the engineering disciplines, plan to offer a Makerspace class that will use the MakerBot Innovation Center as a resource for projects centered on remote sensing, environmental monitoring and building control systems.

“We’re thrilled to be a part of UMass Amherst’s unique Digital Media Lab that emphasizes technology and project-based learning,” said Mark Schulze, UMass graduate and MakerBot general manager of the Americas and Emerging Markets. “UMass Amherst realizes that the jobs of tomorrow will require strong technology and collaboration skills. To prepare students for these jobs, the MakerBot Innovation Center will help to cultivate entrepreneurialism, education and innovation in Massachusetts and far beyond.”

The large-scale lab will offer many opportunities for students and faculty, as well as the community. They will be able to function as a 3D printing hub that invites the local business community to collaborate on projects, as well as participate in their entrepreneur-in-residence program, instructional courses, as well as workshops.

Other libraries that have MakerBot 3D printers include the

  • Chicago Public Library
  • Johnson County Public Library, in Overland Park, Kansas
  • Long Beach Library in Long Beach, California

UMass Amherst was established 151 years ago, and Massachusetts considers their alumni to be a very important part of contributing to the state’s economy, as UMass Amherst graduates tend to stay and work in state afterward. The school has an enrollment of over 28,000 students attending from 49 states and 68 countries.

Have you been to a public or university library that houses 3D printers for use by the community? Do you think this is the wave of the future for innovators to go to other venues and 3D print when they lack the funds to purchase their own equipment? Tell us your thoughts in the UMass Amherst 3D Printing MakerBot Innovation Center forum over at 3DPB.com.

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