Thumbnail Image

The Trials & Tribulations of incorporating 3D Printing into the Health Science Curriculum

In May 2015, our library was granted an NNLM MAR Medical Library Project Award to purchase a 3D printer and incorporate its’ use into the health science curriculum. No one on our staff had any prior experience with 3D printing. What we did have was an interest in offering new and innovative library services. We also wanted to promote the library as a partner in introducing new technologies to our students. Therefore, we forged ahead and learned all we could very quickly in order to get the program up and running. During brainstorming sessions with our Occupational and Physical Therapy departments, it was agreed that a valuable experience for our students would be for them to design and print a custom assistive device for a patient. Our plan was for the Librarians, OT & PT faculty and IT staff to attend a 2-day training in 3D printing and design. Then the Librarians and faculty would train the students in two different graduate courses to design and print a custom assistive device. The IT staff would help with the installation and maintenance of the printer. The 3D printer would be housed in the library where all the involved parties could have access to it for the greatest number of hours and the printing would be supervised by library staff. What we didn’t foresee was that a 2-day training was not enough to learn the design skills needed to create the assistive devices. We felt we had learned what we needed to get started running the printer, but designing objects to print was a more technical process that required skills and expertise beyond our introductory knowledge. The design software was completely foreign from any other types of software the Librarians and faculty had experience with and we were intimidated and overwhelmed by the end of the 2nd day. In addition, no one realized the noise that a 3D printer makes and how that would affect students studying in the library. Others might have given up at this point, but we wanted to complete the project somehow. With a little luck, a little serendipity, and a lot of determination, we found a solution. But it didn’t solve all the problems and our solution created new problems. We kept working through them and have found the experience to be worthwhile and valuable for everyone involved. In this presentation we would like to share how we managed the unexpected problems and also share our successes and continuing challenges. The key takeaways will be tools for evaluating 3D printers, training or finding partnerships for file creation, and effectively situating a 3D printer within the physical space of the library.