What happens when your 3D printer program is too successful?
The year is 2010, and Makerbot has completely upended the paradigm of 3D printing being too expensive for general use.
On a whim Brian Slocum uses part of his budget to buy one, and sticks it on a stand outside his office, inviting those in the building to use it.
Within days Brian is surprised to find 4 people standing at the Makerbot, waiting their turn to print their file. There is no plan for dealing with multiple people showing up! And a day later it is 8 people, all wanting to jump in and print their file quick before class.
Brian buys a second 3D printer, but it does not alleviate the problem. By the end of that year Lehigh boasts five or six of them.
Managing the print queue becomes impossible
2011 and Brian has scaled to 10 3D printers. Still running on SD cards, the technology is embraced by early adopters who challenge themselves to put it into classes and build curriculum around it.
The real jumping off point comes when The Wilbur Powerhouse has 15 or 20 Makerbots. The 3D printing program is now impossible to manage. There is no structure; it is first come first serve.
There is no way to queue up whose turn is next. Whichever student can be there at 7:00 AM when one print ends, is the student that can get to 3D print on it next.
Not in line with core values
And first come first serve is not really fair. It turns a lot of students off, and goes against Lehigh University's core values.
Lehigh is supporting 3D printing in classes, which can't operate on that type of schedule. And though The Wilbur Powerhouse is building up staff, they are spending an inordinate amount of
time collecting 3D print files and prioritizing them.
Lehigh university, maker space groundbreaker
As Lehigh University was a groundbreaker in developing a makerspace, so in 2016 Lehigh is one of the early adopters of the 3DPrinterOS platform. This software allows all the 3D printers to be managed from one platform.
3DPrinterOS connects 3D printers, files and users. Every part of the 3D printing process is tracked, monitored and audited with the reporting tools. Print queues are seamlessly shared
between students and 3D printers, allowing for exponential growth in use.
3D printing: an attractive entry point to making
Brian finds 3D printing has a magnetic attraction to students. He frequently gives tours to prospective students and faculty, and showcases the 3D printing room. He tells them, “You can be in your dorm room, or you can be in Africa, but as long as you have an internet connection, you can upload your file. You could be on spring break in Florida, send your file, and when you get back to Lehigh on Monday you can walk in and pick it up.”
As well as empowering remote printing, 3DPrinterOS also allows Brian to track usage and tie it to individual users. This provides oversight: students learn to that even when they’re printing for fun there’s a real dollar value attached to it, and it helps become creative with a purpose.
Brian finds that 3D printing is an attractive low-barrier entry to other aspects of The Wilbur Powerhouse. Students may not be familiar with shop tools, so it’s far less intimidating as a first experience, and can serve as a stepping stone to embracing more of the deep resources The Wilbur Powerhouse has to offer.
Managing Director The Wilbur Powerhouse Lehigh University
A Lehigh University alum, Brian Slocum has been an integral part ever since the beginning of Lehigh University's premier makerspace. Known as The Wilbur Powerhouse, this makerspace started as a metalshop and woodshop. With Brian as managing director it has evolved to include everything from laser cutters to CNC machines to 3D printers.