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3D Design Studio unleashes hands-on innovation in Newman Library

March 31, 2016

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Studio staff Farouk Daher, at left, and Ali Conley remove a 3-D print of a miniature shark.

On the second floor of Newman Library, one can find helpful circulation or reference assistance, a writing center, lots of busy students, and — as of March 1 — an array of 3-D printers.

The 3D Design Studio  provides students, faculty, staff, and community members the opportunity to print 3-D items and the chance to learn about one of the fastest-growing technologies in the world.

“Design and prototyping are critical fluencies today, and we wanted to create a space where students could develop those skills,” said Brian Mathews, associate dean of learning in the University Libraries. “Our aim was to create a space where novices and advanced users alike could explore, experiment, mentor, and inspire each other.”

Other labs and studios on campus offer high-end 3-D printing for specific programs or departments, and there is often a fee to cover the cost of materials. The 3D Design Studio is intended to acquaint more people with 3-D printing by providing access to introductory level printers — and it is completely free.

“We chose a variety of 3-D printers for the studio so users would have the chance to experience different 3-D printing technologies,” explained Scott Fralin, exhibit specialist and event operations coordinator. “We want users to truly learn about 3-D printing and the range of offerings available in addition to printing their designs. The 3D Design Studio is meant to be a place where everyone, regardless of skill level, can walk in, learn about how to 3-D print, and then 3-D print something themselves.”

The lineup of printers includes six cartesian printers, three delta printers, and two resin printers. Cartesian printers are named after the coordinate system and operate by moving along X, Y, and Z axes. Delta printers work similarly, but the extruder is suspended by three arms from a triangle up top; these typically print much quicker than other printers. Resin printers work by taking liquid resin and turning it into a solid to create objects.

Among these 11 printers, the studio can print almost any material imaginable, including plastics, wood filled filaments, and even some UV luminescent filaments.

To learn more about how these printers work, visit the 3D Design Studio in 2010 Newman Library and talk with studio staff or read about the various printers.

The studio is open to everyone during its operating hours, no Hokie Passport needed. Visitors need only provide an email address so they can be notified when their prints are ready.

“We wanted the studio to be open to the community to uphold the land-grant values we have here at Virginia Tech and also to allow the community to learn about 3-D printing firsthand,” said Fralin. “It’s one thing to hear about 3-D printing on the news, but it’s a completely different experience to design a part and see it 3-D printed in person.”

To lower material costs and to reduce waste produced by the studio, all test prints, faulty prints, and abandoned items will be shredded, melted, and extruded to create new filament for printing.

The studio was designed and developed by University Libraries’ faculty and staff, who will continue to manage the studio. Studio staff made up mostly of Virginia Tech students will work directly with visitors to design and print items.

Now that the studio is open, its organizers said they are looking toward the future.

“The 3D Design Studio is an extension of our educational mission,” said Mathews. “Our intention is not just to provide an assortment of machines, but to build a program by offering tutorials, workshops, design challenges, idea swaps, and other activities to engage the community. We’re especially excited about connecting with individuals and courses who don’t typically use prototyping tools to empower them to be creative and build upon their digital literacy skill sets.”

For more information, tutorials, and workshop dates, visit the 3D Design Studio website.

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.

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