Penn State opens Libraries’ Maker Commons 3-D printing lab, Invention Studio

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A new 3-D printing lab in Penn State's University Libraries is now open, giving Penn State students and faculty at all campuses the opportunity to dream up, design and print almost anything. The lab, called the Maker Commons, houses a large-scale printing installation of 32 MakerBot desktop 3-D printers as well as the Invention Studio, where University Park students can use littleBits for rapid prototyping of devices, and offers consultants to answer questions and help with projects.

Although the Maker Commons is housed within Pattee Library’s Knowledge Commons at the University Park campus, students from all Penn State campus locations, including the Penn State World Campus, can send projects to the 3-D printers via makercommons.psu.edu. Students can upload their designs, and each will be added to the queue of projects waiting to be printed. When a print request is complete, it will be sent via the same delivery system used for intercampus library materials requests, and can be picked up at the appropriate campus library’s main desk, such as Pattee Library’s Commons Services desk at University Park.

Joseph Salem, the University Libraries’ associate dean for Learning, Undergraduate Services and Commonwealth Campus Libraries, says the lab will give students from all disciplines the chance to bring their ideas to life, regardless of whether they have experience with 3-D printing or not. “I’m excited that the Libraries is showcasing this new space where students across the University can create, innovate and collaborate,” Salem said. “This will be a game-changer for design and invention at Penn State.”

The lab is an important step in understanding the opportunities 3-D printing can bring to Penn State, according to Kyle Bowen, director of Penn State’s Education Technology Services. “The Maker Commons provides students and faculty with new capabilities to engage in creative activities across disciplines,” Bowen said. “This initiative is designed to support our students in pursuing their own learning, research and entrepreneurial accomplishments.”

Jonathan Jaglom, CEO at MakerBot, said Penn State is preparing students for jobs of the future by bringing a startup mentality to the University and by implementing the online MakerBot Innovation Center product through the Maker Commons website. “Reports show that learning from failure, working collaboratively across disciplines and managing a product from concept to a physical product are skills that employers are looking for,” said Jaglom. “We’re excited to see the new ideas that come from Happy Valley.” 

Sig Behrens, general manager of education at Stratasys, MakerBot’s parent company, and a Penn State alumnus, is thrilled with the way the University is incorporating 3-D printing into teaching and learning. “It’s not about what you make but what you learn while you are making it,” Behrens said. “Penn State is doing something with 3-D printing we have never seen before by integrating the design process into multiple disciplines. In the past, 3-D printing in higher education was reserved only for engineers. But now, Penn State is pioneering a different path, and we couldn’t be more excited."

Already, faculty and students are seeing use for use 3-D printing capabilities beyond traditional disciplines like engineering and mathematics to others, such as anthropology.

“This University has so many students with creative ideas, but until now there’s been limited access to 3-D printers to fabricate and test those ideas,” Tim Simpson, a professor of mechanical and industrial engineering and co-director of Penn State's Center for Innovative Materials Processing through Direct Digital Deposition (CIMP-3D), said. “The Maker Commons will help open students’ eyes to all the possibilities enabled by this technology and allow faculty across campuses to integrate the technology seamlessly into their courses.”

Mitchell Lester, a sophomore majoring in mechanical engineering, is a member of Penn State’s Lunar Lion team, which is already using MakerBot printers to help design and build its spacecraft. Lester says 3-D printing not only enhances the team’s work — they use the printers to build engine models, clips and other small parts — but also fuels his aspirations for learning. “When you start working with 3-D printers on a regular basis, you start to think in 3-D,” he said. “And when you get to hold the final product in your hands, it ignites a great desire to learn — not just in the classroom, but on your own time, too. Education takes off with passion.”

The Maker Commons is a partnership between Penn State's University Libraries and Teaching and Learning with Technology, a unit of Information Technology Services. For more information, visit makercommons.psu.edu.

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Last Updated March 31, 2016