Case Study: Penn State University Empowers a Community of Innovators with MakerBot
| by MakerBot
About Penn State University
Founded over 150 years ago, Pennsylvania State University is lauded worldwide as a respected leader in research, creative activity, and scholarship in higher education worldwide. This public research university relies on federal funding, grants, and private donations to provide quality education, tools, and resources for its 100,000 students. With undergraduate and graduate programs that rank globally each year, Penn State University is celebrated for its diverse curriculums and distinguished faculty. To achieve noteworthy breakthroughs in STEAM advancement, Penn State’s students, faculty, and staff use innovative technology.
After observing 3D print success in a variety departments like Material Science, Mechanical Engineering, and Industrial Engineering, Penn State’s Academic Technology department decided that every PSU student should have access to 3D printing. They wanted to create a dynamic 3D print experience that would encourage innovation and collaboration across all academic disciplines. But with 24 campuses sprinkled throughout Pennsylvania, and many students attending PSU’s World Campus online, it’s a challenge connecting students in different learning communities all over the world. They also sought to better serve their large population of commuter students who don’t always have the convenience of visiting departments that house 3D printers. They wanted to ensure that these online and commuter students could receive the same learning experiences as those who live on campus.
A Lab Built for All
In February 2016, Penn State opened a Maker Commons, a new 3D printing lab on campus. The lab includes a MakerBot Innovation Center, which features 32 MakerBot Replicator Desktop 3D Printers. Students can find the new lab in the Pattee Library at the PSU University Park campus. PSU’s Educational Technology Services (ETS) team used MakerBot’s on-site training to equip their multimedia specialists with the knowledge to assist students and faculty. Staff, faculty, and students at Penn State University can enjoy 3D printing with Maker Commons.
The lab was created with the intention of giving students the freedom to do whatever they want. “We’ve allowed for experimentation and exploration, not being controlled what was being printed. This allows students completely new to 3D printing to learn the technology while using it ‘just for fun,’ and then progress onto designing projects for class,” explains Ryan Wetzel, Manager of Maker Commons and Media Commons.
A New Reality for Students and Staff
Ordering a 3D print from the MakerBot Innovation Center is easy. Pattee Library has an intercampus library material delivery system that it’s using to ship 3D prints. A student simply uploads a 3D design on the Maker Commons website. From there, the design will be added to a queue of print projects waiting to be completed. When it’s done printing, the print is sent through the library delivery system. Students can then pick up their print wherever they requested to have it shipped. The PSU library relies on its relationship with various courier systems to make this happen. By making it so easy to order, request, and receive new prints, the school has made it convenient for students of all majors, residencies, degree levels, and disciplines to enjoy access to 3D printing.
Maker Commons was also designed to appeal to faculty. Librarians and ETS directors hosted an event called “Make It” for faculty interested in learning how to include 3D printing in their curriculum. “They got to learn firsthand what some of the possibilities are,” says Kyle Bowen, ETS Director of Teaching and Learning with Technology. “We’re already starting to see that kind of faculty engagement pay dividends, even as early as we are in this process.” After learning how easy it is to incorporate 3D print innovation into their curriculums, PSU educators have started to think outside of the box and try new things.
Students and faculty also have the freedom to 3D scan and recreate old, hard-to-find objects from the library’s special collections database. “They’re rare and we want to show them off, but they’ve never been part of the curriculum because you don’t want them handled,” shares Joe Salem, Associate Dean for Learning, Undergraduate Services, and Commonwealth Campus Libraries. He believes that re-creating these objects gives educators the freedom to help students think creatively about what 3D printing can do and how it can add new dimension to their learning.
Projects That Challenge and Motivate
Professors are using the MakerBot Innovation Center to add depth and creativity to coursework. One PSU engineering professor gave a class of 300 students a design challenge that explores buoyancy. Students were tasked with designing and printing a boat that could hold a large number of pennies. Maker Commons printed about 100 different iterations of boats. “These students were able to apply that [STEAM] thinking to something they could physically engineer. It was a design challenge for which they could get immediate feedback. They were able to essentially develop those skills they could apply to design problems in the future,” Bowen explains. Essentially, this sort of dynamic STEAM learning experience will prepare them for challenges in their future careers. It’s a project that challenged them, inspired them, and motivated their growth as future innovators.
New Convenience for Campus Innovators
Even students that already had access to 3D printing on campus enjoy the convenience of Maker Commons. Mitchell Lester, a sophomore on the Penn State Lunar Lion Team, had been using his access to various facilities and labs on campus to help the group achieve their goals with 3D printing. The team has a mission to land a spacecraft on the moon. They typically use their MakerBot Replicator 2X, a MakerBot Replicator 2, and a MakerBot Replicator Z18 to make prototypes, print specific parts, and create battery casings and jigs to assemble new models. Maker Commons has helped the team expedite the production of new parts and cut down on the time it takes to train new members. “We’ll send new members of our program to Maker Commons to get them up to speed. We don’t have to spend our time familiarizing freshmen with 3D printing,” Lester says.
The Lunar Lion Team attracts students from a wide range of academic backgrounds, exposing many to in-depth engineering experimentation for the first time. “Additive manufacturing gives students a balanced idea of what actually goes into making the first product and getting it to the market. Our MakerBots help with that,” Lester says. With rapid prototyping capabilities available in Maker Commons, engineering teams like Lunar Lions have the chance to experience real-world manufacturing and design. Similarly, students in other disciplines can use Maker Commons to test out ideas, print designs, kick off their startups, and more.
Over 18,000 Hours and Counting
Since its opening, Maker Commons has boosted creativity and collaboration within the PSU community. According to Ryan Wetzel, the lab has yielded over 18,000 hours of print time and over 2,000 successful prints since the MakerBot Innovation Center opened 3 months ago. This high demand of prints and heightened passion for 3D printing throughout campus is a testament to the true depth of service it provides for students. Penn State is interested in adding on another MakerBot Innovation Center or two in the near future. As the popularity of the service continues to expand, the current lab will shift to becoming a larger incubator for entrepreneurship and research. Pennsylvania State University will continue to empower, challenge, and motivate its community of 21st century innovators with 3D printing.