3D Printing at a Library Provides Equitable Access to Evolving Technologies
Since their inception, libraries have been dedicated to ensuring equitable access to educational resources, enrichment, and exploration. In an ongoing effort to adapt and evolve, libraries are exploring new ways to integrate technology and create new revenue streams. One of the fastest-growing trends is offering 3D printing. Let’s dive in and take a look at the benefits and challenges of offering 3D printing at a library.
#1 3D Printing Could Improve Accessibility
Universities are more likely to have 3D printers, and even full-scale print farms. However, an increasing number of K-12 and public libraries are making the investment. If public access isn’t available, check with your local university to see if they offer public print timeslots.
If you can’t find a place to print locally, explore your options in online print farms. While you will have to wait for shipping, online libraries provide you with the ability to bring your vision to life. Their services may even include assistance with the printer setup.
#2 High-ROI Investment of 3D Printing
The initial investment for commercial printers is between $200 and $5500 each. With the growing demand, your investment can be paid back quickly by assessing a small markup for supplies and a flat rate for print time.
K-12 schools may allow students to print small projects for free. For example, a snowflake for winter decorations or miniature animals for a diorama. Rates to print are between $3 and $8 per square inch. However, most libraries require pre-paid or invoicing for print time and supplies. Printing prices vary by factors such as:
- Print material(s)
#3 Space is a Roadblock
3D printers take up a significant amount of space, and most libraries want at least a few. This might include several of their preferred models or multiple models to meet a wider range of user needs.
So, even when libraries can find the funding for the printers, they may struggle to find the real estate to house them. This is often somewhere secure with limited staff and user access. The space also needs to be temperature controlled and have sufficient electrical outlets.
#4 Learning Curve
3D printing at a library isn’t as simple as uploading your project and pressing print. Human error is high, so staff, students, and users will require training to ensure a successful, time-efficient, and cost-efficient print job. In fact, this learning curve can result in financial loss. For example, if an admin helps a user set up a print job and the print job fails, the library may take the financial loss.
The most common training areas include:
- Selecting the correct printer
- What materials to use
- Project scale and rotation
- Positioning for efficiency
- Contact on the build plate
- And more
#5 3D Printing Software
To minimize the learning curve, keep print fail rates to a minimum, and scale output, many libraries are also investing in 3D printing software. With 3D printing, there is no way around a multi-step process, but software empowers libraries and users with a streamlined and semi-automated workflow. Even something as simple as ensuring there are enough materials in the machine to print.
3D Printing Software:
- Provide thumb-drive free printing
- Minimize human error in print setup
- Designate administrators and users
- Save designated print parameters
- Track materials inventory
- Monitor printer and user hours
- Analyze users for efficiency and compliance
- Allow for remote approval of print jobs
- Allow users to pre schedule print jobs
- Allow admins to view printers in real-time
- Send automated alerts to admins and users
- Seamless charging for 3D print jobs
- And more
#6 Secure your 3D Printing Project Storage
Another challenge to 3D printing at a library is the ability to store repeat print jobs. Not to mention how challenging it is to recall the steps required for setting up the print job. This is another reason to consider a 3D printing management software.
After uploading and setting up, users can choose to store their project files, project file versions, and the last print settings in a secure cloud software. So, when they need to reprint a job with the same specs—it only takes a few clicks to print. Or if a print job fails, the print settings can be reviewed to ensure a successful print on the next run.
#7 Online Appointments
Even with remote software, users may require assistance selecting their printer, print materials, and setting up their print job. So, many libraries provide online appointments to schedule one-on-one assistance. Print times take a minimum of 30 minutes for simple projects or multiple hours or days. So, once set up, the project may need to be scheduled for a later date.
Ready to Optimize Your 3D Print Jobs?
Offering 3D printing at a library is an exciting way to empower your students, staff, and community members. If you would like to learn more about streamlining your printing with software, we invite you to reach out to 3DPrinterOS. Our customers include public libraries, K-12 schools, universities, enterprises and more.