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Understand the Benefits of 3D Printers and What Your Policy Should Include

Heather Salko, Esq.
October 2020
What to include in your policy on these increasingly popular tools

Your institution likely has a 3D printer. Often used to create prototypes of parts or products, 3D printers are used across disciplines — from engineering to art — and are gaining in popularity in K-12 schools, colleges, universities.

When properly managed, 3D printers can be a valuable tool to achieve your institution’s learning goals and encourage creativity and innovation. But it’s important to create a strong policy on their use for safety, intellectual property, and other legal reasons.

What Is 3D Printing?

3D, or additive, printing creates a solid object from a digital design file. The process is achieved through a printer that lays down successive layers of the printing medium — anything from plastic to carbon to food — until the solid object is completely formed.

Many higher ed institutions offer 3D printing services in the library for use by the general campus population; these printers are also frequently housed in labs.

3D Printer Policy

No matter where 3D printers are located, your institution should have a straightforward policy on their use. The policy should:

  • Identify who can print designs, such as staff, faculty, students, and the general public.
  • Prohibit printing offensive or potentially dangerous materials.
  • Retain the right to refuse to print anything for any reason.
  • Account for intellectual property issues and concerns, such as copyright infringement.
  • Outline sign-up times for using the printer and/or require advance submission of designs for printing.
  • Identify who will monitor and approve requests and designs, if approval of the printer’s use is required.
  • Identify a time limit for picking up finished items and a method for handling uncollected items.
  • Establish responsibility for damage to printed items or printing errors. Remind users through signage placed at the printer, such as, “The institution is not responsible for printing errors or damage to printed items.”
  • State whether users must pay for printer time, materials, or both.
  • Require users to sign an acknowledgment of the 3D printer policy with each request.

More to Consider About Printers

As you prepare to add a 3D printer at your institution or review how they’re currently used, also consider:

  • The printer location — a library or lab — and staff responsible for managing and maintaining it
  • How the printer exhaust is vented — because of the release of nanoparticles, people working with 3D printers may be required to take Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) training
  • How to dispose of excess or unneeded material byproduct
  • Who monitors the printer while it is in use
  • Whether people printing items have physical access to the printer
  • How to address requests for more printers on campus (in specific labs, workshops, classrooms, or even dorm rooms)
Additional Resources

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