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Entering the Third Dimension

3D printing is a hot topic these days. While printers ponder whether or not it makes sense to offer it, some in-plants have already made the investment and are reaping the rewards.

January 2014 By Bob Neubauer
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Dave Hadenfeldt was running late. The IT department at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) was holding a "listening session" for anyone interested in 3D printing, and Hadenfeldt, director of Print, Copy, Mail & Distribution Services, wanted to attend.

He had been wrestling with the idea of adding a 3D printer to his 20-employee operation and wanted to find out how much interest there might be on campus. He was expecting maybe a dozen people at the meeting. But when Hadenfeldt opened the door and stepped into the room, his jaw dropped at what he saw.

"The room was full. It was standing room only," he recalls. "That's how we knew there was some interest there."

In October, the in-plant started offering 3D printing services using a MakerBot Replicator 2.

"It's about the size of a small microwave," observes Hadenfeldt.

So far, the device has printed a number of paying 3D projects for the in-plant, but more importantly it is keeping the in-plant relevant and bringing attention to its services.

"We decided that part of our mission is to stay on top of technology," explains Hadenfeldt, "and to be the university printer we have to be able to respond to what's out there."

Additive manufacturing—more commonly called 3D printing—is creating quite a buzz in the printing industry. Low-cost 3D printers have made this technology readily available, and printers have started offering this as a value-added service.

On university campuses, 3D printing labs for students are cropping up all over the country. Youngstown State University and Virginia Tech are just two schools whose 3D labs have been in the news. But not many in-plants have started offering this service, and this may be a missed opportunity.

Calling Attention to the In-plant

"I would recommend it," says Robert Carlson, manager of the print laboratory at South Dakota State University. After adding four MakerBot Replicator 2 printers, the Brookings, S.D., in-plant is not only generating revenue from 3D printing but is enjoying increased visibility because of the new service, which has led to an uptick in print work.

For a client hosting a recent conference, the in-plant printed a number of small trinkets to be given away during a presentation on 3D printing. The shop also printed the conference brochure.

 

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