Oxford gets glimpse into future

Christopher Gooding
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A small thread of plastic exuded through the jet of a 3-D printer replicates a comb in front of Daryl Atkinson during a demonstration at the Oxford Library.

OXFORD – There is no comb.

With a press of a button, though, and few minutes of the machine zipping back and forth, under a laser blue light a new, shiny red comb appears.

What sorcery is this?

None, in fact. It’s the magic of 3-D printing, which made its debut at the Oxford Library. Amidst plastic toys, replicas of zeppelins and intricate chains and busts, Youth Interim Coordinator Daryl Atkinson introduced the blueberry capital to the newest frontier in technology.

“We can’t really take requests yet. Some people ask ‘Can you make me this’ or ‘Can you make me that’ but we are experimenting with a 3-D app that can scan objects, so in the future we might be able to,” Atkinson said.

The 3-D printer will be available for the public to use at the Four Fathers Library in Amherst beginning in September, and at that time people will have to either email their file or bring it on a flash-drive to the library. Websites like thingiverse.com offer libraries of files to the public, including intricate bird houses, toys, models and more, but the day is fast approaching, Atkinson says, when the potential of 3-D printing will catch up with more than enthusiasts.

Imagine yourself a plumber, in need of a specific fitting you don’t have on hand, or an antiques enthusiast looking to replace a missing fitting. In the not-so-distant future it could be as simple as a scan, download and press of the button.

“You could print out parts hard to find,” Atkinson said.

It’s a notion the public are drawing themselves.

Local businessman Eric Mosher parted from his store to see the 3-D printer demonstration, and it’s potential had his imagination captured.

“It’s amazing. What you see in the movies is here.” Eric Mosher

“It’s amazing. What you see in the movies is here,” Mosher said. “We had a replica of the blueberry [Oxly – a roadside attraction in Oxford] we were selling at the store. With a 3-D printer that would certainly change things. We could print them as we needed them.”

Right now with a price tag of about $2,500, the Printmaker the Cumberland Family of Libraries owns is the most accessible to the public. When open to the public for use, it will carry a dollar-per hour price tag for prints to cover the cost of materials.


Be Aware

Believe it or not, there is a dark side to 3-D printing, which has muddied the waters for lawmakers, both sides of the 49th parallel.

Some 3-D printer enthusiasts have made files available to print single-shot handguns and what would normally be considered restricted firearm parts, all of which have been tested and, in some cases, proven successful. Atkinson says while the library won’t censor prints, so long as they fall within the limits of the law, it does raise the question what constitutes a firearm manufacturer and how our policy makers will deal with 3-D replicas of firearms.

As a cautionary note, however, the Four Fathers Library shares the same space with the Amherst Police Department.

“We do have the Amherst Police upstairs,” Atkinson said. “We’ll be leaning on them if we have any questions.”

Organizations: Oxford Library, Amherst Police Department

Geographic location: OXFORD, Amherst

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