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Spotlight: 3D Printing at the Ruth Lilly Medical Library

an image of hand holding a 3D printed module

The 2020/2021 academic year has been a busy year for the Library’s 3D printing service.   The service is available to School of Medicine students, staff, and faculty on all IU School of Medicine campuses.  Completed prints may be picked up at the Library, and in the case of regional campuses, prints will be shipped at no extra charge.

What can be printed?
The most popular prints are models of the:  skull, heart, pelvis, scapula, spine, humerus, and hand bones.  The most unique item printed has been a CT scan brain model.  For more about the service, please see the 3D Printing and Learning Library Resource Guide which includes policies, and a request form.   There are also links to model repositories such as the NIH 3D Print Exchange, Thingverse, and Embodi3D.  For the latter two repositories, some models may involve a fee to use.

How long does it take?
It depends on the number of print requests in the queue at a given time, and the priority of the print.  Generally, we strive for a two-week turnaround, but depending on the situation (complexity of the print, issues with printers) the turnaround time may be shorter or longer.  More complex or larger prints may take days to print and some days to post process.  The Library’s 3D printers are FDM (fused deposition printers) which build the print layer by layer (usually .2mm) and print success is dependent on several factors, including the thickness of the model, general errors in the model’s geometry, placement of support material, and hardware issues such as leveling the build plate, grinding filament, breaking filament, and the print warping as the filament cools.  

How does one request a print?  Does one need to send the desired  .stl or .obj file?
The print request form is also located on the Guide.   A specific .stl or .obj file may be attached to the form OR the requested print may be described, and the Nexus Manager, Cassandra Jones, will check to see if 3D print ready models are available and work with the requester to select one.  While clinical proof of concept models may be printed, a print that will touch a patient needs to be referred to a different service such as the IU Health 3D Innovations Lab which is located in the basement of the Simon Cancer Center.

Interested in learning more about 3D printing, and getting hands on experience with 3D printing?
This option is recommended if one is thinking about requesting multiple prints.   Taking into account time and effort, if giveaway items are being considered for printing, it is likely faster and less expensive to order them through a commercial supplier.  

Currently, the Library’s 3D printers are run by Library staff, but looking forward to summer 2021, check with the Nexus Manager to see if training is availableAfter successful completion of training, access to the Prusa MK3 3D Printer may be granted.   Another option is the IUPUI Idea Garden which offers training for 3D printing as well as free prints to students, faculty, and staff at IUPUI who are willing to learn 3D printing.

For questions about 3D printing at the Ruth Lilly Medical Library email OR contact Cassandra Jones, Nexus Manager at 3D printing consults are available for students, faculty, and staff at the IU School of Medicine.

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.
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Safar Saydshoev