King Santos

Printing Truly Captivating Magic

Exposure to new and upcoming technology is an important cornerstone of a modern college education. Nesbitt Library is striving to become a campus location where students of all disciplines can be inspired through the world of the 3D universe.

By: Rachel Olszewski

“In a few years, 3D printing may be as ubiquitous as streaming music or paper printers.  This new technology allows students to think creatively about design, and about objects that they want or need, either for scholarship or entertainment,” explains Nesbitt Library Head Librarian, Jennie Knies. “Although the engineering students on our campus are familiar with the basics of 3D printing, as the engineering department often uses 3D printers to create prototypes and to learn design principles, my staff and I wanted to take this opportunity to expose this technology to the wider campus community.”

Launched in 2015, the 3D printing program at the Nesbitt Library has close to 90 print requests in the first year.

“The beauty of 3D printing is that it allows for the creation of things that are not easy to buy,” states Knies. “Numerous websites, the most popular being Thingiverse, allow users to upload and share 3D printer design files.  Some students, intrigued by the printer in the library, asked for keychains or other trinkets bearing their favorite car logo or sports team.”

International Phone Holder

A creative student printed a cell phone holder with a Parisian theme.

Image: Penn State

3D printing, also known as “additive manufacturing,” is the process of building three-dimensional objects by building layers, usually with a form of plastic, following instructions from a digital file. While not quite mainstream, 3D printing is gaining momentum outside of academia. Home Depot recently launched a pilot program to allow customers to request 3D printed items in store, much like a key kiosk that duplicates keys.

“3D printing is not always straightforward.  Often the designs people fine online are of questionable quality, or have only been tested on one kind of printer, and not on another,” describes Knies. “Even ‘plug and play’ 3D printers, such as the one owned by the Nesbitt Library, require fine-tuning.  People publish 3D designs online without ever testing the prints.  In those cases, the staff works with the students to find alternate designs, or to edit the existing ones so that they will print properly.”

“Some of the designs that you can get online for free are faulty or don't agree with our printer,” says student Courtney Snow. “John in the library is amazing at making supports for different designs. Recently I started editing designs myself and sending him the results.”

Pikachu Spotted

Having trouble catching Pokemon around campus? Print your own Pikachu!

Image: Penn State

As students have grown more comfortable with the technology, their imaginations have begun to expand the range of possibilities. One student requested a 3D-printed Viking boat to use in a class project that involved an exhibit.   Another requested a star butterfly cosplay wand to use as part of a costume.  Some of the more adventurous branch out into creating their own designs. John Owens, Nesbitt Library’s Circulation Supervisor, who oversees the 3D printing program, designed a case to hold playing cards using a free and easy-to-use website called Tinkercad.

“I had actually done a report on 3D prior so when I heard we had a few printers on campus, I knew I had to figure out how to print something,” states Administration of Justice major Daniel Deleo.

"Initially students are amazed by the world of designs that can be found online.  The ability to print out the things they are fascinated by, such as items from their favorite books, movies or games, immediately grabs their attention,” explains Owens. “However, it is when someone takes an idea they have and makes it solid through their own design, that they are truly captivated by the magic of 3D printing."

“I am actually changing my major because of the library printing program,” states Snow. “I was a business administration major and while I haven’t yet nailed down a defined major, I know I want to work with geographic information sciences. I never would have even thought about that if I hadn’t gotten interested in 3D printing.”

Students aren’t the only beneficiaries of the Nesbitt Library 3D printing program.  This past summer, the library printed different colored lizards of different sizes for Biology professor, Dr. Renee Rosier, to use in a game called ‘Lasso the Lizard,’ that allows participants to experience a popular method of catching lizards in the wild.

Library staff are also trying to use 3D printed objects in the library as much as possible. Some examples include a circular business-card holder, book and DVD stands, and pen holders for the circulation desk.  When the need arose to raise a large white board a few inches off the ground, 3D printed mount was designed that held the wheels and added height in a stable manner.  Librarian Megan Mac Gregor has created 3D printed objects to aid in library exhibits and to decorate the Nesbitt Library; the 3D printed diamonds that currently hang in one of the windows were printed for an exhibit earlier this year.