3D printing in the Makers Lab

Library stories: Learning by printing in the Makers Lab

The UCSF Library's Makers Lab purchased our first 3D printer in December 2015, the Ultimaker 2. Our soon to open makerspace was still under minor construction when the 3D printer arrived, so a co-worker and I quickly got to work unboxing the printer in my cube.

Our task was to get to know the Ultimaker, test it, and 3D print a retirement present for our University Librarian by the staff holiday party. As 3D printing neophytes at the time, I cannot imagine a better printer for the task. We got to work setting up the printer and quickly learned the importance of a level print bed, filament options, extruder temperatures, and so much more.


Our first 3D print!

We met our goal and presented the 3D printed brooch to our University Librarian, the first item 3D printed in the UCSF Library. We used mod podge to seal small paper pages on the book and attached a fastener to the back so it can be worn. Physically speaking, the brooch was small in size (2" x 2") and was downloaded from Thingiverse, but working on this first print provided an incredible learning experience for the two of us. And it also made a nice gift (see first prototype below)!


3D printed brooch prototype

The Makers Lab went on to open in April 2016 and any UCSF staff, faculty, and student can visit and 3D print at no cost. As more people have been introduced to 3D printing, the Ultimaker has played a crucial role as the “entry-level” printer, while we know it can handle complex prints as well. The Ultimaker is a piece of technology that can be maintained and supported in a library setting due to the intuitive design and usability. Our staff are primarily volunteers with full-time jobs in the other areas of the library, so the ease of use of the Cura to Ultimaker workflow has been invaluable.


3D printing for health sciences

The Makers Lab is not a 3D printing house, we provide tech and materials to help support a wide range of maker and creative projects from the education, clinical, and research communities on campus. There is a strong DIY emphasis and people are encouraged to take ownership over the printing process, by starting and removing their prints. Without a user-friendly printer like the Ultimaker 2, I do not believe as many people would have become as comfortable and engaged in the 3D printing process so quickly.


The UCSF Library’s Makers Lab

The Makers Lab has now been open for just over a year and we continue to learn from our successes and failures. We have logged 650+ print hours on the Ultimaker 2, and hundreds on the other two printers. The excitement is contagious when people are first exposed to 3D printing and go on to learn about resources such as the NIH 3D Print Exchange and Tinkercad. This has created a snowball effect of learning experiences for everyone involved and allows us to continue to support more complex 3D print projects, both big and small.


failed prints
We have learned through failed prints!

The Makers Lab now has three 3D printers, which positions us to support a larger number of prints and longer print times (see a few examples below).


Pediatric eyeglasses


3D printed artwork by Kevin Rivera

As someone with a background in instructional technology, I value instructional theory and traditional pedagogy, but there is something truly special about the experiential learning taking place with 3D printing technology. This is because failed prints force us to reflect on our experiences. We learn from print failures, clogged extruder, too much (or too little) feeder tension, using glue vs PEI;  all learning experiences that are hard to take away from a document or manual.

We look forward to continuing to support the Ultimaker 2 and the 3D printing projects people bring into the Makers Lab and Library. We are also eager to tinker with the Ultimaker 3, as materials, print speed, and reliability continue to rapidly improve!

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UC San Francisco is the leading university dedicated to advancing health worldwide through preeminent biomedical research, graduate-level education in the life sciences and health professions, and excellence in patient care.

The Makers Lab is a creative, DIY space, where students, faculty, staff, and researchers can gather to make, invent, and learn.