A SCRUG's life - the early history of the PSU RepRap User's Group.
In some sense, this whole local bud of RepRap development is a total accident. There were a few threads which I point to as having a role in making this happy accident possible:
1. R.Doyle, R.Devon, and M.Horn's NSF sponsored "Nanotransformations" course in which the RepRap project was discussed by Doyle as an example of something potentially along the lines of Feynman's "hands making hands" trope discussed in "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom"
2. Two years later, I was possessed with some sort of insanity which drove me to spend ~$1,000 on a Techzone Mendel kit.
3. Six months after that, Richard Devon decided to post a course in which I would guide students in the construction of similar Mendel kits.
4. Seed money was graciously provided by the Shuman Foundation for the purchase of more equipment suitable for the construction of RepRaps.
5. Additive Manufacturing/3D Printing continues to gain momentum in the larger media, helping to pique interest in students who might then sign up for the course.
6. EDSGN/CEDE faculty members have allowed me to speak to their students and explain what we have been doing and what our FREE printing service entails (capabilities, limitations, design considerations, printing time considerations, etc). I am working to lure their TAs into learning how to operate our printers as well.
7. Some of my/our students went on to form the PSU 3D Printing Club! This is a significant development, in that they have obtained their own printers (Two MakerFarm I3s, and Two Solidoodles), and are nearing the completion of their own Mendel-type design. These printers might allow any student, with filament in-hand and sufficient effort, to access 3D printing technologies! Virginia Tech has an entire lab where makerbot Thing-o-Matics are printing for students who bring their models. We aren't as streamlined as they are perhaps, but I think I prefer the opportunity for student-to-student education over interfacing with an emotionless wall of printers.
We(as I've always had some help along the way) continue to operate the course each semester, finding students to fill it largely by word of mouth. Constructing more printers each semester has allowed us to occasionally distribute them to other PSU campuses who have interest in getting some experience with 3D printing but are unsure where to start or whom to purchase from. Currently the following PSU campuses possess 3D printers which we have delivered to them : BrandyWine, New Kensington, York, and Erie. In this regard, many interested parties have contacted us for suggestions or to answer their questions on the subject of Additive Manufacturing more broadly.
The entire process was very bottom up, without any particular push or oversight from administration. This seems somewhat perilous in that the long term operation of the course hinges on finding long-term staff support for such an endeavor. It is likely that the institution will not notice that anything is wrong until we stop doing what we're doing. Perhaps this will become more apparent when no sections are scheduled.
This experience with these printers and students has led to some important conclusions regarding the options available to schools and universities in terms of 3D printers. Perhaps the most salient is that self-sufficiency is worth more than a service contract. We have inherited a few Makerbots and a [email protected], largely because of the difficulty in getting them to run now that their manufacturers no longer support them. I have heard stories of high schools receiving Makerbot systems as donations, only to find out that they are not simply repaired. This puts teachers in a particularly poor position, as their administrators see the donation as a solution rather than the problem which is actually represented. Which is simpler, to spend time troubleshooting a particular system which will not be replicated, or to build a new system from scratch? I hazard to guess that most teachers would prefer to build something new which they have some control over rather than spending lots of time trying to fix a legacy system. Additionally, the value and importance of open source cannot be stressed enough. Buying a 3D printer which hides the gcode, the slicing settings, and meters the filament are all typical approaches that businesses apply for their own well being, and there are some merits to having a "push button" 3D printing experience. Students using such a system can focus on their (re)design process without becoming distracted or bogged down in tweaks and repairs. That being said, custom modifications and alterations become far more difficult when working with a closed 3D printer. This significantly limits the utility of 3D printing for research purposes, in that the capabilities of the unit are 'factory set', unlike an open source system which can be modified at will.
Some Current Initiatives: Modelcraft: Minecraft as modeling software. Can you render GCode from Minecraft directly? BioPrinting - Getting started now, refurbishing the [email protected] Infill strength tests: What infill pattern and density yields the best strength properties for the amount of material used? Printing Pastes: alumina, glass-bearing, magnetic rubber, and more! Dual Extrusion: Totally possible (not new ground) but tricky to do well
Some Future Initiatives: Convert Y-bed to a rotating/tilting bed to print from the inside out Printing metal ala Pearce Group