What is 3D Printing?
3D printing, or additive manufacturing, is the process of making solid objects from digital files. A printer is used to melt down raw materials such as plastics, metal alloys or synthetic silk-like substances. The printer then deposits the raw material onto a platform in much the same way a traditional printer deposits ink onto a sheet of paper. The 3D printer continues to deposit the material in successive layers, building upwards until a real, solid object has been built. Instead of printing a picture of a coffee mug, you can print a real, usable mug and take it with you.
What Can I Make with my 3D Printer?
This depends on the size of your printer, budget and your ability to design. In 2004 Audi created a concept car manufactured in large part by 3D printers. The Audi RSQ was featured prominently in the sci-fi film I, Robot. In 2011, a group of Canadian engineers created the “Urbee”, the world’s first 100% 3D printed car. Archaeologists and museums can scan and replicate fragile cultural relics – imagine being able to reconstruct a duplicate Rosetta Stone without ever endangering the original artifact. Researchers at Cornell University have even used bio-printers to create replacement ears for burn victims and artificial heart valves.
While smaller, non-industrial printers certainly won’t have the ability to manufacture entire vehicles, the types of items they can produce is vast. It’s easy to make figurines, toys & puzzles, replacement parts for household items, mobile phone cases, robots, sunglasses, kitchen utensils – just about anything smaller than a loaf of bread. The best part is 3D printers are self-replicating. They can be easily used to print parts to build more 3D printers.
Users can download pre-designed objects from websites such as Thingiverse, design their own objects or scan and replicate real-life objects.
3D Printing in Libraries
In recent years public libraries have been evolving from “warehouses with books” to a more community based model. Libraries have become vibrant communities where people meet, socialize, learn, collaborate and create. Regardless of whether you call them hacker spaces, fab labs or maker zones, hobbyist communities are popping up in libraries all across North America.
Just as the Internet democratized access to information, 3D printing technology has the potential to democratize access to the manufacture of goods. With the Internet, the average person has the ability to create and spread information without having to rely on large media companies. 3D printers will allow us to create and share physical items without the reliance on assembly lines or factories. Libraries have always been engines of democracy, and as a progressive, forward thinking organizations they are perfect vehicles to help introduce this emerging technology.
While there are other models out there, here are some specs on one of the more popular (and affordable) 3D printers.
- Cost: $1999 USD
- Delivery: Comes fully assembled in 10-12 weeks
- Includes: MakerBot printer w/ double extrusions (prints in two colours simultaneously), two 1KG spools of ABS plastic
- Features: LCD control panel (controls the printer w/o need for a separate PC), SD card slot to upload schematics and object designs, print volume of 300 cubic inches (about the size of a loaf of bread)
- Shipping Weight: 32 lbs.