3D printer at library

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The printer's output

AMHERST – You’ve heard about it in newspapers and on TV. Now you’ll be able to see it in person: a 3D printer has been acquired by the Cumberland Public Libraries.

It’s exactly what it sounds like. Spools of plastic are loaded into the desktop device as fuel for a printing nozzle, which lays down layer after layer of plastic, slowly creating a three-dimensional object.

A bracelet. A screw and nut. A small, knotted curio. And taking shape on the printer upstairs at the Four Fathers Library, a red plastic smartphone cover.

“It’s cooler than I thought it was going to be,” said Steve Weatherby, systems manager and CAP coordinator for the county’s library.

The printer, a MakerBot Replicator 2, was one of 15 purchased by the province from the NSCAP budget. Because they were purchased in bulk, the units were about $2,200 each. The spools of coloured PLA plastic – polylactic acid, made of cane sugars and plant material – run about $40.

Denise Corey, deputy chief librarian, said the first public demonstration of the machine is planned for June 4, from 2:30 to 4:30. It will be a look but don’t touch event – the machine is sensitive to being moved and grows hot when printing.

Additional demos are planned throughout the library system, and at some point use of the printer will be available to the public (Corey said a person with a strong desire to print a project now could get in touch with the library).

Weatherby said the structural design files used by the printer can be found online. He mentioned thingiverse.com as a free source of files.  Google SketchUp can be used to design models, he said.

“Huge learning curve, though.”

To help with their own learning curve, the library has partnered with Dalhousie University, which has been using 3D printing for a couple of years. In the three weeks since the unit was acquired, Weatherby said they’ve printed fewer than 20 objects. He handed over a small, flat plastic pedestal with a honeycombed interior for a rudimentary structural strength test. Two hands couldn’t snap it.

The printer isn’t the only new technology at the library, either. The province’s CAP program – best known for maintaining free, public Internet sites – purchased two Lego MindStorms kits for the library. The buildable product is a modest, programmable robot. Corey said the library’s computer trainer, Daryl Atkinson, will be spearheading programming around introducing the robots to patrons.

Corey acknowledged the printer and robots will be of interest to all ages, but stressed the importance of introducing them to children, describing the technology as a competitive edge for the future.

Information about events will be posted on the library’s website, she said.

esparling@amherstdaily.com

Twitter: @ADNsparling

Organizations: Cumberland Public Libraries, Dalhousie University

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