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From the Editor: 3D Printing at In-plants

April 2014 By Bob Neubauer
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When Ken Macro began listing some of the available, affordable 3D printing technologies during his keynote at last year's Association of College and University Printers (ACUP) conference, many of those in the room sat up straight and listened. The Caly Poly department chair mentioned devices that sold for as little as $1,385, putting 3D printing technology within reach of in-plants.

One of the managers in the audience was Dave Hadenfeldt, director of Print, Copy, Mail & Distribution Services at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, who had been toying with the idea of getting a 3D printer. "We were leaning that way," he told me. "And he kind of helped push us to, 'yes, you're thinking in the right direction. You're not crazy for thinking this.' "

After ACUP, Dave took the plunge and got a 3D printer. So far, the in-plant has printed a number of paying 3D projects with the device. More importantly, though, offering 3D printing is keeping the in-plant relevant and bringing attention to its other services. "We decided that part of our mission is to stay on top of technology," Dave explains, "and to be the university printer we have to be able to respond to what's out there."

At the same ACUP conference, I also bumped into Robert Carlson, manager of the print laboratory at South Dakota State University, who already had plans to add 3D printers. Today his in-plant has four of them, which are mainly used by students to produce projects they have designed. Robert sees 3D printing as a value-added service—like laser engraving and fabric printing, which his shop also added—that is helping out the university and also generating more interest in the in-plant.

If you're at a university, someone is looking at 3D printing right now for outputting student projects. Why shouldn't it be your in-plant that provides it? Get the jump on those other departments. At least get into the conversation and let them know you're researching it and have the infrastructure to provide this as a service, along with any ancillary printed products that accompany it.

The topic is sure to come up at this month's ACUP conference, which marks the beginning of the spring conference season. Actually, I already attended an in-plant event in New York, a Xerox conference called simple@work that featured a track of sessions just for in-plants. I enjoyed catching up with the dozen or so managers in attendance and hearing speakers offer ideas on how managers can be more productive while growing their businesses.

 

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