Ennex 3D Printing Archive Acquired by Penn State


Fabbers: The Ennex Archive
of 3D Printing Resources and Artifacts
at the Eberly Family Special Collections Library
Pennsylvania State University

Fabbers Archive: Autofab Collection briefcase, 1994
Briefcase used to show capabilities of digital fabrication in client meetings, 1994. (Enlarge)

Ennex is pleased to announce that its archive of artifacts and resources from the earliest days of digital fabrication has been acquired by Pennsylvania State University. The archive was acquired in early 2018, and after two years at work curating its more than 20,000 items, Penn State has now published its finding aid for use by students, faculty, researchers, and the general public.

Athena Jackson, head of Special Collections for the university at the time of the acquisition, said “This is an exciting collection that fits the mission of our new 3D printing lab. Our faculty are excited that a collection like this exists. It answers the ‘why’ question – helping to explain where the technology comes from.”

Part of what attracted Penn State’s interest is the archive’s diverse contents, from fabricated artifacts to print resources to experimental materials from Ennex’s development laboratory. Matt Francis, former associate head of Special Collections, described the archive as “a cohesive ecosystem of the history of the technology.”

Penn State has developed into one of the world’s premier universities for 3D printing research and teaching, with more than one hundred 3D printers on its campus, ranging from $500 open source RepRaps to $1.5 million metal printers. The university’s 3D printing e-mail list has 180 members, and there are at least eight 3D printing classes focusing on processes, design, materials, and other aspects of the technology. The university is now building on that foundation to develop both an undergraduate specialty in 3D printing and a cross-disciplinary masters program in Additive Manufacturing & Design, engaging five departments in two colleges.

1995 interview of Marshall Burns by American Institute of Physics. (Vimeo, 3:30 m:s)

Ennex founder Marshall Burns mused, “What a far cry from the early days, when it was extraordinary for any university to have just one machine!”

Jennifer Meehan, Penn State’s new head of Special Collections, reflected on the collection she will be managing. “The Ennex Corporation records represent an important resource for studying the history of printing and technology. This collection significantly adds to the Penn State Libraries’ growing collections in the area of science and technology, and offers exciting opportunities for engaging students and researchers through classes, exhibits, and events, both physical and virtual.”

Penn State was one of at least nine institutions interested in housing the Ennex Archive. Ben Russell, Mechanical Engineering Curator for the Science Museum of London, which holds the original steam engine of James Watt, said the archive’s mixture of artifacts and print materials “offers a snapshot of the formative years of the industry.” Deborah Douglas, Director of Collections for the MIT Museum, said, “This would be a pretty spectacular addition for us.” Amanda Wick, Special Collections Archivist at the Charles Babbage Institute, said “Having access to the origins of this technology will be a truly exceptional opportunity.” Benjamin Gross, Associate Vice President for Collections of the Linda Hall Library of Science, Engineering and Technology, said, “This is an impressive collection in a technology with growing importance to a variety of scientific and engineering disciplines.” Other expressions of interest came from the Smithsonian Institute, the Computer History Museum, the 3DP Museum, and the Museum of Design in Plastics.

Fabbers Archive: Cover of broker's catalog, 2017
Official catalog prepared by rarities dealer Arthur Fournier to offer the archive to selected institutions for acquisition, 2017. (Open)

Ennex was represented in the acquisition by Arthur Fournier, a New York-based rare archives dealer with a special focus on transformative cultural movements and disruptive technologies. Fournier explained that he took on the project because the archive “provides a unique overview of the historical circumstances surrounding the advent of 3D printing, a technology with explosive market growth and tremendous potential for transforming the means of production in modern society.”

The archive includes 90 objects fabricated as far back as 1991 on the earliest 3D printers made by 20 companies or university laboratories in four countries using eight different processes, over 300 books and periodicals amounting to over 23,000 pages, including all the books and conference proceedings published on this technology in the 1990s, as well as every print issue of the original industry newsletter, the Rapid Prototyping Report, plus dozens of video tapes and over 500 photographic slides. Permission was obtained from a number of Ennex’s consulting clients to include the previously confidential reports produced for them. In return, Ennex has also released into the archive its own previously confidential documents, including business plans, machine designs, and customer presentations, in both paper and over 12,000 digital files.

Burns sums up why Ennex is proud to have this archive become available to a new generation of researchers looking back on the earliest days of the technology. “What is interesting here is that it provides, literally, solid evidence of where things stood in the 1990s. The artifacts show what people were making. The conference proceedings show in great detail what ideas people were working on to improve the technology and what results they were getting. The client reports and our Board of Customers videos provide a unique glimpse into the heretofore secret business meetings of the time.”

The archive has been organized into 18 boxes of physical materials occupying 18 linear feet in Penn State’s Special Collections facility, as well as a hard drive containing 1.4 terabytes of digital files. Access to inspect the materials in person may be requested using the inventory form in the finding aid. For more information, see:

Or contact:
Penn State University Special Collections Library
104 Paterno Library
University Park, PA 16802-1808

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