3D Printing

The Student Technology Center is equipped with multiple Ultimaker S3 3D printers for use by students, faculty, and staff!  3D printers allow you to custom-make anything you can think of, from unique toys, to functional tools, to customized obscure replacement parts.

Various figurines 3d printed in shades of blue and gray: A tower with spiral base, a bust of a person, a dragon, Thanos head, owls, blocky t-rex skelton, and unusually shaped being with long skinny legs and a round body topped by a smaller jelly-fish shaped head

How can I 3D print at the STC?

Everyone with a Western ID is allotted 25 grams of 3D printing per quarter.  In order to access this, you must take our 3D Printing and Making workshop.  Once you've done that, all you need to do is bring your .stl file to us and we take care of the rest!

a 3d printed sign that consists of two gears with the letters "clo" on one gear and "sed" on the other. Animation starts with the gears showing the word "closed." A hand turns the gears, and the letters turn and overlap in such a way that the sign now reads "open"

What if my model will be more than 25 grams?

If your model exceeds your quarterly print limit, you have a few options:

  • Reduce the size of your model.
  • Reduce the infill of the model - many models will successfully print up to 90% hollow.  Doing so can dramatically decrease the amount of material used.
  • Come to the STC in person to speak to our employees or managers to see what we can do for you and your project.  Exceptions to the 25-gram quarterly allowance can be made in special circumstances.

How do the printers work?

Our 3D printers use the Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) technique.  The simplified process is as follows:

  1. A 3D model is put into a program known as a slicer, which translates the model into hundreds of thin "layers" that are placed one on top of the other.
  2. After the model has been sliced, it is saved as a GCode file onto an SD card, which the printer is able to read.  The file includes complex and meticulous instructions for the printer's hotend, which is mounted onto two moving axes.
  3. The extruder pushes plastic filament through a tube leading to the hotend, which melts the plastic at approximately 210 degrees celcius.  The molten plastic is then pushed through a nozzle, which deposited it onto a heated glass surface according to the instructions provided by the GCode file.
  4. The glass buildplate is also mounted on an axis, which moves down in tiny increments after each layer has been completed.

If you want to learn more about the process, there are dozens of YouTube videos with tons of information!  This video shows a hypnotizing timelapse of an Ultimaker-2 at work.

Ultimaker S3 3D printer at rest.

How long does it take?

The FDM process tends to be fairly slow by nature.  Depending on size and level of detail, prints can take anywhere from 5 minutes to as long as multiple days!  At the STC we are only able to operate the printers during our business hours, so typically we do prints in the range of 1-6 hours.  Print time can be reduced at the sacrifice of infill (which improves durability) and/or resolution (quality).  Models can also be divided into multiple parts to be printed simultaneously and later glued or epoxied together.