Printing has entered the z-axis.
Having purchased a desktop 3-D printer in August, Print Services is offering use of the machine to all faculty, staff and students. The new service was unveiled during the Supplier Showcase on Oct. 22.
“3-D printing has been around for 20 or 30 years, but it is only just becoming affordable,” said David Hadenfeldt, director of print, copy, mail and distribution services. “Really, it’s the most exciting thing to come along in printing since color.”
3-D printers work by reading a digital file from a computer, then using a heated material — primarily plastic or metal — to build the object paper-thin layer after layer.
The Print Services machine, a MakerBot Replicator 2, uses a corn-based (PLA) plastic to create objects. While a variety of colors is available, Print Services currently can craft objects that are semi-transparent, white or red.
The technology is nothing new to campus. Engineering and architecture have 3-D printers, but both reserve use to students within the colleges.
“Our machine is available to anyone at UNL,” said Hadenfeldt. “It is also available as a back-up machine to those in the colleges.”
Print Services is working to establish rates for 3-D printing. However, Hadenfeldt said the rates would only be for the cost of materials.
Also, Print Services does not build the blueprint files used to craft 3-D objects. Instead, individuals must provide print-read files.
The Makerbot Replicator 2 print area is 11 inches wide by six inches deep and six inches tall. Large items can be printed in smaller parts, then glued and sanded together.
Hadenfeldt said the purchase of the machine was spurred by Scott Hawco, bindery supervisor for print services, a presentation at a national conference, feedback from meetings on campus, and growing popularity in the industry and college campuses nationwide.
“Scott has been after me forever to get one of these,” said Hadenfeldt. “We really started to consider it as an option after I attended the Association of College and University Printers conference in April up in Minneapolis. One of the last presenters suggested that if we take anything away from the conference, it was to start paying attention to 3-D printing.”
Many universities, including the University of Michigan and Penn State, offer specific classes on 3-D printing and have started integrating the technology across multiple education disciplines.
When the concept was presented to groups at UNL, Hadenfeldt said the response was positive.
“We talked to Michael James from Textiles, Merchandising and Fashion Design, and he started going on 10 different tangents on how his students could use the machine,” Hadenfeldt said. “Folks at the Sheldon (Museum of Art) talked about how they could fabricate miniature versions of the sculptures and make them available to individuals who are blind. And people from the museum of natural history wanted to know if we could print skulls.
“The idea of 3-D printing really energized people.”
That includes Hawco, who wants to incorporate both the third-dimension and scent into Print Services’ annual holiday card.
“Some people say the printing industry is dying. It is not. It is just changing,” Hadenfeldt said. “And, making this 3-D printer available to campus is just one way we are keeping pace with those changes.”
For more information about the 3-D printer, go to http://printing.unl.edu/print or call 402-472-2146.