BeAM aims to improve sustainability, accessibility

The University’s BeAM, or  “Be A Maker” spaces, recently introduced a new cloud-based printing initiative — 3DPrinterOS.

Makerspace patrons can now create 3D prints online using the software, rather than having to connect to the printers physically. 

Reese Letts described BeAM as a place where students can express themselves. Before 3DPrinterOS’s installation, she said the 3D printing process was far more tedious and time-consuming.

Letts claims that 3DPrinterOS has made the printing process easier. Participants are kept informed about how many filaments they need, how many are left, and what color is being used.

“Depending on individuals’ personal preferences, there are a lot of softwares that people enjoy using and 3DPrinterOS allows all of them,” she stated. 

Kenny Langley, director of BeAM, stated that BeAM is committed to technological innovation as well as improving its mission for environmental sustainability. 

“In our trainings and through reinforcement on the floor, when people are working on projects, we encourage them to repurpose materials,” Langley said. 

Langley stated that BeAM is currently studying sustainability in the printing process. 

“We’ve been pushing toward a better solution for a 3D printer filament, but it wasn’t commercially available,” he said. “We’re looking for who is going to lead this and take it to scale, and it’s been colorFabb.”

ColorFabb, a company that makes 3D printer filaments. It provides BeAM with a copolyester-based filament called colorFabb XT. AllPHA is a biobased, biodegradable option that the company has just launched. 

Langley stated that he hopes allPHA material soon will be available in Makerspaces, although it is not yet finalized. After testing the biodegradable filament BeAM will help students get allPHA through a partnership with Sustainable Carolina.

Levi Tox, a BeAM program specialist, said one of the biggest “double-edged swords” for people who frequently use 3D printers is their large use of plastic. 

He noted that UNC’s ability safely to dispose off prints is a precedent for other universities seeking to reduce their ecological impact. 

Tox claimed that 3DPrinterOS has reduced the number failed prints. In the past, it was not possible to predict if the 3D Printer would have enough filament to complete the print. 3DPrinterOS gives patrons the ability to pause and stop the print completely to reduce waste. 

Langley stated that he hopes to expand Makerspace to other University areas, such as the UNC Adams School of Dentistry.

“For me, it’s to stabilize the system and move it from a startup to more settled, predictable systems so that we’re operating, training our staff adequately, and creating great professional development opportunities for staff and users,” Langley said. 

Tox said that BeAM is continually changing its policies. He also mentioned that BeAM revises training modules to incorporate its latest updates. 

“BeAM is always changing,” he said. “That’s kind of its job. That’s kind of the point.” 


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