Entering the Third Dimension

At the ACUP 2014 conference, Dave Hadenfeldt, of the University of Nebraska, drew a lot of attention during a roundtable discussion on 3D printing when he talked about his in-plant's experiences with 3D printing.

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.

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.

“That little conference probably netted us, with the 3D trinkets and the printing, probably close to $3,000,” Carlson remarks.

Though the SDSU engineering and architecture departments had 3D printing capabilities previously, the in-plant got into 3D printing after the university president spoke with department heads about creating a center where architecture and design students could do 3D printing for their courses.

“They called me up and I said, ‘Oh yeah, we’d love to get involved in that,’ ” Carlson recalls.

As a result, SDSU’s print lab was expanded and other new services were added, such as laser engraving, printing on fabrics and vinyl cutting with a Graphtec cutting plotter. The shop just added a 3D scanner as well. The Print Lab, staffed by 14 employees, is adjacent to SDSU’s Imaging Center, which handles the university’s offset, digital and wide-format printing needs and is run by one full-time employee, a contract worker and 11 student employees.

Carlson says students are the main users of the 3D printer to produce samples of projects they have designed. Other notable 3D jobs:

  • The psychology department faculty asked the in-plant to produce a tray to be used for studying water worms, and they were so pleased with the result, they ordered 10 more.
  • SDSU Parking Services asked the in-plant to replicate an internal plastic piece that had broken on one of its handheld ticketing devices. A student worker measured the broken part, designed a new one and used the 3D printer to create it. It fit perfectly.

At the University of Nebraska, the in-plant’s first paying 3D job was the creation of 200 letter N’s (for Nebraska) to be given to grade school students. The shop has printed battery tubes, iPhone cases, pendants, animal figures, furniture prototypes, a topographical map of the Ashfall Fossil Beds dig site and numerous student class projects. Many customers get their designs from MakerBot’s Thingiverse website.

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