The need for alternatives to Makerbot Innovation Centers

Schools and universities are again sitting at the crossroads of innovation. In the 90’s and 2000’s, the proliferation of computer education in schools led to an entire generational transition towards computer proficiency. Now in 2016, the influence of educational institutions is again poised to make a similar impact on the 3D printing industry.
 
Whether it’s a college student 3D printing their own braces or developing tumor-cloning devices for more effective cancer treatments, students are pushing the applications and entire 3D printing ecosystem forward.

 
Despite all this innovation, the task of purchasing 3D printers and deciding how to manage the process still remains daunting for many departments. One of the most common scenarios we see working with schools, is that 3D printers have already been purchased and are simply not being used. Schools have stopped using them because it’s difficult to teach students multiple workflows for multiple printer types, and then manage that process without needing to hire additional resources on an already strained school budget. If only 5 students are able to use a $3000 3D printer and it requires a $50,000 per year lab admin to manage the process then it’s very hard for a program to justify the cost of acquiring more machines.
 

This means it is absolutely essential that school administrators and students alike have a centralized, easy-to-use process for managing all the files, machines and users scattered throughout an entire campus. More importantly, schools have to be able to track and report on the growth of their programs so they can justify future funding. What defines success for every institution may be different, so admins need a platform that’s customizable and able to capture a wide variety of data points. Schools without a centralized platform often have a hard time understanding the costs associated with their program, and have to rely on manual processes (excel sheets, pivot tables and email) to monitor and track usage.

 
Makerbot offers their Innovation Center as a centralized system for managing exclusively the Makerbot line of printers. This puts a school in a potentially tough situation if they want in the future to add desktop or industrial machines not made by Makerbot. Additionally, the Makerbot Innovation Center is a costly upfront investment for a school in that you are typically starting with a minimum of 10+ machines. With the Makerbot 5th Generation printer retailing at $2899, this means a school is looking at a minimum $30,000 to bring this system in.
 
This is why at 3DPrinterOS we’ve made it easy to manage users, files and machines for every 3D printer type. Our Educational License is a single solution that gives you all the features needed to track, grow and manage your entire 3D printing program without forcing you hire additional administrators or commit to a single printer type moving forward.
 
Schools using 3DPrinterOS immediately have access to data tracking and reporting on their machines and users. This data tracking was how Duke University was able to grow their 3D printing program from 5-10 3D printers and a handful of students with access, into a 33 printer+ campus wide initiative. Chip Bobbert, the Emerging Media Technologist at Duke, was able to give his students a single workflow for accessing their Makerbot and Printrbot machines and then clearly visualize and report on the growth as more and more students were able to try for the first time the incredibly disruptive power of 3D printing. As the program grew to over 100 students utilizing those same 5-10 machines, he was able to use his acquired data to justify the expansion of Duke’s 3D printing program.
 

Schools and 3D Printing Software

 
Bringing it back to the personal computing revolution, that industry may have grown quite differently if Windows did not exist to unify the experience across machines. Imagine the frustration if every student who learned how to use a Dell computer had to then completely relearn how to use a HP or Toshiba. Yet in 3D printing today, we still see schools having to teach their students how to use Cura for their Ultimaker, Z-suite for the Zortrax and Makerware for the Makerbot. As 3D printing technology continues to advance, students abilities will continue to grow by leaps and bounds. If we enable schools to bring in 3D printing with greater ease, we only accelerate this exciting trajectory.

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