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Part 11: Expanding your 3D print environment

When introducing 3D printing, many schools and universities introduce just one or two printers, largely driven by budget restrictions. Phasing the introduction of 3D printing is a good approach as it allows you to monitor how students and faculty staff interact with the new technology, to test it and plan your expansion accordingly. However, soon enough more printers are needed as the student and faculty usage requires it.

Here are five considerations when developing your 3D printing expansion plan.
1. Peak and quiet times
The first step in planning the roll out of additional 3D printers is to look at the usage data of your current fleet of 3D printers. When does print demand exceed the available printers and when printers are standing idle?
Knowing the quiet and busy periods not only informs you of how many printers you need for peak times but can also aid you in encouraging use during non-peak times. Usage data will also assist in deciding where to locate additional 3D printers. 3D printing reporting is extremely valuable and is the natural first step in planning your 3D expansion. (Print management software will have reports that easily tell you this.)

2. Supporting your entire curriculum
Using 3D printing for STEM subjects is becoming increasingly popular. However, 3D printing can enhance the educational experience across the entire curriculum, including subjects such as geography, history, sports and music.  3D printing brings many subjects to life and improves student engagement. Don’t just focus on STEM subjects, 3D printing opens new opportunities in many subjects and drives greater student engagement. In turn, their motivation for learning increases, the quality of teaching improves and results are boosted.

For example, in music, when students can produce their own flutes, they can experiment with the shape and sizse of the holes to see the impact on the sound it produces.

So, when looking to expand 3D printing in your school or university, speak to your faculty staff and find out where they think 3D printing could have the biggest impact. These additional printers that support non STEM subjects can help fill the demand from students in STEM subjects.

For more information on subjects that can benefit from 3D printing read Part 9 of this series, “Building a Curriculum Around 3D Printing.”

3. Peer to peer training
When you expand the use of 3D printing in your school or university you need to consider expanding training for additional staff and students. You have a great opportunity here, as those who have already been trained and actively using 3D printing can train their peers.

Peer to peer training offers additional benefits as your users can share their own experiences with 3D printing. It can also be a cost-effective method of training your staff and students, meaning you can invest your budget in further training for your “super users”, who then transfer their knowledge and skills to the rest of your school or university.

4. Student to printer ratio
Knowing how many printers you need for your school or university can be difficult to judge, especially if you need to expand quickly and have insufficient data to inform your plan. A good rule of thumb in this situation is 15 printers for every 500 students on campus. You can still phase your roll-out, focusing first on the subjects that your staff and students believe will have the greatest impact from 3D printing.

5. Evaluate your print costs
With the data you have in your reports, you will have information on the average amount of material (filaments) used on print jobs. If you are charging these costs to departments or charging students (pay-for-print), look to see if you are correctly charging enough to offset costs. If you are expanding, you might consider purchasing filaments in a higher volume to decrease costs. 
No matter if your 3D printing expansion plan is a revolution or an evolution, these five points can help guide your approach. Remember, use the data you have available and ask your staff and students for their input; involving your users will elicit buy-in and assure success.

Learn more about 3D Printing in Education
Introducing 3D Printing into the Classroom is a series of articles designed to help educators and IT administrators in education understand 3D printing. This series covers topics including how 3D printing can enhance the learning experience, the associated costs and the considerations for creating and managing a 3D printing ecosystem. In the final part of this series, Part 12, we share our top tips for 3D printing.

Part 10: Maintaining and Supporting 3D printing
Part 9: Building a Curriculum around 3D printing
Part 8: Desiging for 3D printing
Part 7: Successfully introducing 3D printing into your school
Part 6: Finding your perfect 3D solution
Part 5: Creating the right physical environment for 3D printing in Education
Part 4: Building a business case for a 3D printer
Part 3: How much does 3D printing cost?
Part 2: How do you know if you need a 3D printer for your classroom?
Part 1: What is 3D printing and what are the benefits for education?

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