How do you set students free to 3D print while reducing the number of admin hours needed?
3D printing is fun, inspirational, and challenging at Rice University. Undergraduate engineers get real life projects from industry partners. The Texas Children's Hospital, NASA, the Houston zoo, and even global partner teams contribute challenging design tasks that provide students with hands-on opportunities to make an impact.
Projects they've completed recently include medical equipment for parts of the world where electricity may be a luxury, or at least an uncertainty. Students rose to the challenge: results included both an intravenous system, and a blood centrifuge, that can run without electricity.
And some of the connections they've made last long after the school year ends - for example, a young man with a brittle bone disorder, for whom the students made a gripper controlled by a gaming console, so he could reach the counter.
Enthusiasm can cause chaos
But this passion and enthusiasm - which Danny Blacker loves and supports - can lead to difficulties. Eager students might start to 3D print their files without checking to see if a print tray is ready. Or they do not realize how much support is needed, or else there might be some other issue with the filament or 3D printer.
When that happened, Danny used to be left scrambling to cancel the print. He would have to row through the monitor to find which 3d printer was having issues. In his words, "It was chaos."
OEDK one of the first academic makerspaces
The Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen was one of the first academic makerspaces in the US. Launched in 2008, it has developed into a 20,000 square foot hub of engineering innovation. By 2019, Danny was delighted to implement 3DPrinterOS as a means to reduce the admin time required to manage the 3D printers, which had really spiraled out of control.
3DPrinterOS connects 3D printers, files and users. Admins have a complete line of sight into who is printing what, and on which machine. Every part of the 3D printing process is tracked, monitored, and audited with the reporting tools. And being cloud based, Danny can manage it all from his own computer, just as students can log in from their own computer any time.
3D printing: "they're learning whether they know it or not."
The Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen has such an impressive line-up of resources that you might expect there to be strict rules about what students may 3D print. But the opposite is true: as Danny Blacker points out, "Even if they're 3D printing figurines, there's the question of support, overhangs, and curves. They're learning whether they know it or not."