After watching University of Arizona’s Library’s video on 3D printing, we immediately contacted the narrator of the video, Travis Teetor. Travis is the operations manager of University of Arizona’s library. Read further to find out more about him and his advice on starting your own 3D printing community!
We noticed that you’re promoting 3D printing and not just to the students but you’re expanding it to the larger community base. We would love to hear any advice you could offer to people who are trying to build their own communities and we also wanted to know more about you.
In terms of advice to the community, there’s actually a couple of programs. One of our partners is a local maker house called Xerocraft. They are located here in Tucson. When we were starting our program, not only did I look internally here in the campus, I went to a number of other departments. It’s definitely integrated into academia. In particular, business students are using it for rapid prototyping, architecture students are using it to design models for the structures they’re planning on building. I’ve recently been working with a neurology student who had a CT scan of his own brain now it is going to be used as a teaching tool for other students. In addition to just looking at how students were using it, I went to Xerocraft, a local Makerhouse here in Tucson. They are definitely a very community-focused maker community more so even than the University of Arizona. Xerocraft has all kinds of tools that go beyond 3D printing. They have C&C presses, laser cutters, etc. Pretty much anything that somebody involved in the maker club movement that wanted to learn more, Xerocraft is probably the best resource in the community. We make our 3D printing available as a service but we don’t give a lot of hands-on access the way I would like. We would like to offer that at some point in the future.
A large number of students from the U of A community go there and use the equipment but anybody can join it. One of the problems we had is that “cutting-edge technology, maker house, or 3D printing” don’t come to mind when most people think of libraries. We found that students already have access within their specific disciplines or within their programs. However, if you’re an art student, you may not have access to a 3D printer. You may not be able to get to use this technology in the same way. So we as a library chose to offer it and centralize it to give access to everybody on campus. We become a resource for the community which is something that we believe very strongly in doing.
You said that you’re trying to build a community like a Maker House. Is there a 3D printing program already in place or is it just solely offering 3D printing services at the moment?
At the moment, the library is offering 3D printing services but we are in the process of forming a room called our iSpace and we have a 3D printer in there, a first generation Makerbot. The reason we’re going with that is it gives you a lot more of a view into the guts of the machine. It requires more maintenance but we were doing that purposefully because that is supposed to be the makerspace. We want people to know how the 3D printer is functioning and have that hands-on access. We’re going to have a large visualization wall in that space, 9 monitors that are interconnected. The monitors can be moved where you can use them as one big, visualization wall or you can move the side monitors, break up into groups and kind of reconfigure the space. The iSpace is still in the planning stages and probably isn’t going to be open to the general community. It is a small room and will be very much focused on the internal campus maker community since we don’t have the resources always to reach out and make things available more broadly to the public. So, that’s kind of the balance we have to achieve here as an academic library, but that’s why I’ve been working closely with Xerocraft. When we can’t offer service, we can instead refer people to resources within the community.
Are you the sole proprietor of the 3D printing group you’re trying to build at the library based off of the inspiration behind Xerocraft?
We’re really more of a 3D printing service at this stage rather than being a group or maker community. We’re heading in that direction. The library hosted an event called Hack Arizona this past year. The hack-a-thon was hosted in the Science & Engineering library where we shut down the building basically for the weekend and only gave access to hackers in this program. The students started off with concepts of projects and over the course of the weekend, the projects were developed into working prototypes. We had partners from members of the community like Raytheon, Google, and many other contributors. You have all of these individuals that have expertise and help the students to develop their products and perhaps at some point bring products to market.
Definitely don’t put me down as the sole person who’s responsible for this, not by any means. I’m perhaps the face of 3D printing but we are very much a collaborative environment. I had a lot of people working with me to get these programs running and there’s a lot of support both from IT and other departments. So, I’m visible because of the service but there’s a lot of us involved with it.
Are you a professor at the university? Are you a program director?
I’m the operations manager. I’m an appointed professional. Overall, I manage the operations of the libraries and the service points at various branches here on campus. My background is in operations and business. I am one of the people who helps oversee and run the business operations.
You sound like you’re very engulfed in the technology behind 3D printing. Do you create your own 3D models or designs?
Actually, personally I don’t at this stage. I have a staff that I work with who do most of the designing. Because I’m an operations person, I operationalize services. I would love to have an increased depth and knowledge in this area but my focus is more on how it’s being applied and less in actual design. But I have some very talented colleagues that do a lot more with 3D modeling and 3D design which is where we’re starting to partner more with our campus IT and rely on them with providing technical and designing sort of support.
One of my colleagues, Peter Oltoff for example, works in the Office of Students Computing Resources. He has about 8 years of experience using MAYA. He actually used to do that as part of his profession and he helps students with their design projects. One of the directions I’m exploring with him right now is for people like me that don’t have as much design experience and to really implement 3D scanning here. This allows people to take models and create that digital point cloud to get their object into an STL format so they can print it on our printers. We can open up access to people who maybe don’t have time to learn more about that design process.
You’d mentioned earlier that you’ve seen 3D printing being used for rapid prototyping in the business majors as well as the medical field for teaching purposes. How do you see 3D printers in the educational system? Do you see students being more of designers or do you see this as a segway for students to start manufacturing their own products? Where do you see this advancing?
I very much see this as inspirational technology. I purposely put our 3D printers out in a very high traffic area. It’s not facing us, the staff members, but it’s facing out to the public so people can see these printers in action and I actually have monitors so they can see how the final product is going to look like. Anytime I’m walking by there, I’m always stopping and talking to people and telling people about the opportunities of this technology. What’s happening is I’ve gotten students who started off grabbing items off of Thingiverse and printing them. Those same students, within a couple of months, have grown so interested that they’re downloading free design software and they’re designing and experimenting themselves to create their own objects. It’s just very inspirational technology. People are realizing that it is possible to actually create things and produce them on their own and do so inexpensively. Many people in non-traditional disciplines are now experimenting with technology that they would never even have dreamed of trying. It also is very much a conversation . You would get students together at events like the hack-a-thon and you might have, say, an engineering student who is used to doing more of design combined with computer programmers or sometimes even combined with art students who are maybe helping to inspire the design to a physical object that’s going to be created and not just the software that’s maybe running underneath or the hard ware that’s driving it. During the hack-a-thon event, we had students that were also collaborating on building cases for their own drones. We had students that are working on hardware that allows them to do sign language and have the computer translate that into natural language. Very exciting things inspired by the access to the technology they have. It drives them to more or less do whatever it is they can imagine.
You were saying that you helped create the 3D printing service that the library offered. Any advice for those followers that are starting off new and trying to build something just like you are?
There’s a couple of pieces of advice. The thing I always tell people whenever they’re thinking of trying something new is just do it. Just get together and explore the possibilities and then after you have ideas for what you want to do, depending on where the group is, check to see what resources are already available in your local community. One great place to start, of course I’m going to say this because I’m in a library, is a library. Check because libraries may have advice on the sorts of clubs that are either already out there or help make connections to people or at least identify resources that might be available. Every community has a local library. Either a public library or an academic library, so if you can go and talk to those people who maybe have ideas to help you start it. Libraries, frequently nowadays, especially public or academic libraries for students have spaces where people can gather. So if it’s just places where people need to get together, sometimes that’s all it takes. It’s getting together and having that space and knowing that you’re going to be in a safe secure location. So, short version is just do it and find what resources that you have locally.
I love to see people be inspired and create knew knowledge and that’s one thing I really love about this technology especially the future direction of libraries. We’re no longer just repositories of information. We are places where people gather to create new content and new knowledge and I just love that direction. It’s not just something for the future of libraries but for the future of societies. I think this maker movement is a key part of that.