Advancements to the Libraries' Digital Fabrication Lab

Advancements to DF Lab
March 19, 2020

President Bresciani, during his 2019 State of the University Address, highlighted the role that the NDSU Libraries have played in the University’s efforts to “encourage and incubate the entrepreneurial environment here and in our surrounding community.” When talking about the importance of developing makerspaces on campus, President Bresciani pointed to the Libraries, under the leadership of Dean Joe Mocnik, for leading the way by providing NDSU’s first open to all students 3D printing service six years ago. Now, that simple service has transformed into a student-centered Digital Fabrication Lab. President Bresciani stated that, “these hands-on centers of applied creative technologies will unlock the door of what our students have learned in the classroom and allow for active development of their ideas.”

The Libraries’ experience with emerging technologies began in 2014 when Reference Associate Janine Kuntz proposed the start of a 3D printing service. She had researched and found that libraries of all sizes around the nation were experimenting with providing access to additive manufacturing services and believed it to be a good fit for NDSU. With the support of then Dean of Libraries Bridget Burke, Kuntz and a small group of collaborators applied for and were awarded an Impact Grant from the NDSU Alumni Foundation to fund the first set of equipment. The grant funded the purchase of four 3D printers, two 3D scanners, and two Daktech computers to launch NDSU’s first 3D printing service.

Since then, Emerging Technologies Coordinator Adam Elznic has transformed the 3D printing service into the Digital Fabrication Lab (DFL). The DFL’s capability has expanded significantly over the past year in large part due to a Technology Fee Advisory Committee grant and Dean Mocnik’s commitment to expanding services for students. The Libraries remodeled the original 3D printing room and now students of all experience levels have a workshop outfitted with hand tools, CNC desktop milling machines, 3D printers and, thanks to a generous grant from the Alumni Foundation, a 75 watt Universal Laser. This initiative to democratize technology and open up access to students advances President Bresciani’s vision of developing more spaces that encourage and incubate an entrepreneurial environment at NDSU. The Digital Fabrication Lab and the NDSU Libraries are collaborating with other campus entities to assist in bringing a larger campus facility to fruition.

The DFL helps spark ideas that directly affect teaching and learning at NDSU. It hosts classes of future educators – like the students in Teaching Methods in Agricultural Education (pictured right) – giving them the access to and training in the technologies they will encounter in classrooms. Geoscience students are exploring environments beyond the classroom by using virtual reality to view land formations and digital files of scanned fossils to enhance learning.  A steady and growing stream of students are busy in the Lab developing prototypes for their classes, personal projects, and for competitions like the NDSU Innovation Challenge.

The Digital Fabrication Lab’s own technicians, (pictured left to right) Cody Shevich, Joey Kuechle Jr, and Jordan Zunker competed in the Innovation Challenge and pitched developing a bioplastics company to reduce the amount of petroleum-based plastics in the production of common household objects like milk jugs. Their idea of using hemp-based plastic resonated with community members and they were invited by state Senator Merrill Piepkorn to meet with the North Dakota Hemp Council in Wishek, ND. 

Dean Mocnik stated, “The Libraries are very enthusiastic to be involved in helping new makers develop prototypes and business models while inspiring next-generation leaders that will further the boundaries of micro-manufacturing and other advancements.”

The DFL will be offering laser engraver training sessions to students, faculty, and staff that will include a short safety training seminar, followed by a demonstration and a walkthrough showing how to use the laser. Session participants get certified by coming back the following day for a hands-on experience setting up the laser engraver under the guidance of the DFL technicians who can answer any questions they may have about the process. Participants are certified on the laser after running a test file and they can then use the machine on their own during open hours. Stay updated on training session times and other information on the Digital Fabrication Lab page.

In new developments, the Lab is doing what it can to help during the coronavirus pandemic. It's using laser technology and 3D printers to produce cloth medical masks and plastic face shields for local health care providers. View articles with more information at InForum and NDSU News.