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How HvA’s Makerslab facilitates 3D printing adoption amongst students (and staff)

The Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences offers access to 18 (mostly) UltiMaker 3D printers

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Last week, we visited Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (Hogeschool van Amsterdam) (HvA) to get a better sense of how the world of academia is adopting 3D printing technology. The conclusion is – seemingly very well – according to the University’s Makerslab.

What is the Makerslab?

The Makerslab is a production facility for employees and students of the HvA. The open workshop provides resources such as space, machines (laser cutters, CNC machines, 3D printers, and more), and know-how, and is freely available to users from 8.30 to 16.30.

The HvA started the Makerslab in 2011, with only a single Ultimaker printer (UltiMaker, back then, would have been Ultimaker [small m] before the company merged with Makerbot, last year) at a significantly smaller facility compared to where it is now.

How Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences' (HvA) Makerslab facilitates 3D printing adoption amongst students (and staff).

Today, the lab contains 18 3D printers, of different sizes and material printing capabilities – including PLA, ABS, and resin – with the collection mainly consisting of FDM printers from UltiMaker.

“We chose the UltiMakers because they’re just the strong workhorses, and they can stand a bit of.. student handling,” said Sander van Vliet, Manager of the Makerslab at HvA. “If a student comes in and has never used a printer before, they might touch the bed or they might do something with the machine that we would never do. These printers can handle it, and they keep going. They are also low in cost, and easy to maintain.”

3D printing is not the main technology in the lab – it is the laser cutters. However, the real value is in the multitude of different available technologies that can be used in conjunction with one another.

All of this technology is free to use and a range of materials is available to the users of the Makerslab, at cost price. Alternatively, users are welcome to bring their own materials. It really is a very open and free environment.

Philosophy and approach

“Everybody is as welcome as one another. Even if you have never made anything, if you have never designed anything before, if you don’t have any technical knowledge whatsoever, it doesn’t matter. Whatever your starting level is, as a student or employee of the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences you’re welcome to come in and work on your assignments or projects. There are always instructors available here,” said Sander van Vliet. “Experiments are a big thing here, because we’d rather have a student make five mistakes first, or to try out five different things, and then choose whichever one works best before they go on. It’s sometimes very hard for students – for people in general – and they just want to make it perfect in one go. But when they’re here and they start making, they realize and experience that it doesn’t usually work that way. So, failing means learning, and iterating, and that’s the main focus.”

The purpose of HvA’s Makerslab is to democratize the technology contained within it. This takes form when people from different faculties are all in the same space, learning (failing) together, sharing ideas, and inspiring one another.

“People from the fashion program [for example] work with textiles, but it’s also possible for them to work with different types of materials that they might not think about if they were working alone [or only with other people from the same program],” said Sander van Vliet. “Once they come in and see other students from other programs make stuff – they get inspired – they get ideas that they otherwise would maybe have not had. So, indeed, inspiration is also a big thing.”

How Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences' (HvA) Makerslab facilitates 3D printing adoption amongst students (and staff).

3D printing applications

3D printing applications at the Makerslab range from fashion students using it for fabric manipulations, to ICT students using it to create casings for their electronics, to architecture students using it for model-making.

During the visit, I was lucky enough to share the space with some students who were using 3D printing to create a small aircraft wing and associated prototypes, among other parts (including brackets that connect the fuselage to the wing, and another that follows the curvature of the wing with very high precision), for the ‘Design, Build, and Fly’ program.

We are already aware of the groundbreaking impact of 3D printing on aircraft and spacecraft engineering (we would certainly not be making progress anywhere near what we are seeing currently, if it was not for the technology), as well as for prototyping more generally. I’m not sure exactly when I became such a nerd, but seeing the perfect match of these two applications fleshed out in person really was exciting.

When I queried as to whether or not a particularly nice part was printed with one of the UltiMaker printers, I was told that, in fact, the part was printed with an Electrical Engineering student’s modified Creality Ender 3 v2, at his home, using the Cura software. It always interests me to see how far and wide Chinese desktop printers are distributed.

Although the Ender-printed part came out really nicely, he did make the point that these home printers can be particularly weird and finicky, stating that “you fine-tune it, and it works for a week. Then all of a sudden it starts printing spaghetti again.” Accurate.

How are students taking to the technology?

As Sander van Vliet said, when one has an idea, one may start with a crayon or a pen sketch, then translate it digitally, and have it on a screen, which gives a good idea of how it materializes in the real world, “but then if you see it form in a printer – it’s always magic for someone. Especially if it’s their first time. It really starts at that point – they get interested in it and start asking questions about what’s possible and start thinking about how to take their ideas further using the technology. Although none of this can be done without investing time into learning how to use 3D modeling software. Students sometimes underestimate the importance of this.”

Throughout my visit, I got the sense that 3D printing was not particularly novel for many of the students, as they seemed to use it as naturally as one may use a 2D printer. I suppose this is simply symptomatic of the inevitable mass adoption of the technology that we’ve been waiting for.

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Edward Wakefield

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One Comment

  1. I am a Medical Physics Specialist currently doing a PhD (QUT Australia) majoring on brain metastases by developing a 3D printed anthropomorphic head model. Do you work with any extruder material density > 2 g/cm3 ?

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