Through the NIH Library’s Technology Sandbox, a 2014 trial of 3D printers exposed NIH staff to cutting edge technology for work and research. The pilot was so successful that the Library is now permanently offering free 3D printing services.
Results of the Pilot
The pilot (June – December 2014) was open to NIH staff on a first-come, first-served basis. NIH staff had access to two Makerbot model 3D printers and open source and licensed 3D modeling software packages. Users were asked to attend an orientation prior to using the printers, and to complete an evaluation after printing. The responses helped the Library assess NIH’s needs related to 3D printing and also their satisfaction with the service. We asked that printed models be NIH work- or research-related.
Over 200 people from 21 NIH institutes attended 3D printing orientations, and 174 unique projects were printed. The most popular types of 3D models were lab equipment and molecular (viruses and proteins) models. Users who filled out the evaluation survey gave inspirational examples of how 3D printing is helping them with their work. Several people were prototyping new equipment that would be prohibitively expensive or unavailable without 3D printing. Others printed molecular structures they worked with for better visualization and educational purposes.
NIH staff continue to have access to a Makerbot Replicator 2 printer (one print head) and a Makerbot Replicator 2x printer (two print heads) on a first-come, first-served basis. The library provides two types of filament: Polylactic Acid (PLA) and Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) in a variety of colors. We also offer several 3D modeling software packages including Autodesk Maya, Blender, Chimera, Fireworks CC, Illustrator CC, Makerware (for Makerbot printers only), NetFabb Basic, Photoshop CC, and SOLIDWORKS. Reservations are required to use the software.
We ask that models be NIH work- or research-related and that interested NIH staff attend a 3D printing orientation prior to use. Class times are posted on the NIH Library website; registration is available through CIT.
The NIH Library wishes to thank our NIH partners whose support helped make the pilot such a success: Darrell Hurt (NIAID), Meghan Coakley (NIAID), Jeremy Swan (NICHD), Eric Jones (NCATS), Tom Pohida (CIT), Sam Michael (NCATS), and Tom Talbot (NICHD).
For questions about the Technology Sandbox, email us at NIHLSandbox@nih.gov, call 301.496.1080, or visit the Library's Information Desk.