By Tessa Raebeck
After setting his beloved model train set aside years ago when a vital piece disappeared, an elderly Bridgehampton man was finally able to return to his hobby, thanks to a new 3D printer at the Hampton Library.
Delivered just before Christmas, the new Makerbot 3D printer will enable the library to offer more programs to kids and teenagers, teach other libraries about the innovative technology and provide the community with a practical, useful tool.
“There’s a variety of different things you can really come out and do with your 3D printer,” said Kelly Harris, the library’s director. “If you just have the thought, the imagination, to come up with something to do with it, but also the ability to come up with practical uses for it, too—it’s not just a wow factor thing, it’s not just a cool thing to have—it can be really helpful.”
3D printing has been around since the 1980s, but it wasn’t until the last five years that the technology became widely available for commercial use. Designs can be self-created using computer software or by chosing a model from Thingiverse, a global community in which people share designs for use on any Makerbot printer, to make three-dimensional solid objects in any color and virtually any shape.
“Right now we’re printing a heart, which is made out of different movable gears, and we’re printing that in sparkly, translucent red,” Ms. Harris said.
With funds raised by the Friends of the Hampton Library, the library purchased a 3D printer, a digitizer, which scans objects to turn them into designs to then be printed, and some plastic filament, “which is sort of the ink for the printer,” said Ms. Harris, who estimates the total cost at around $3,500.
After the printer arrived, librarians spent January becoming familiar with the new technology. The Bridgehampton Association provided the library with a $750 grant to send Ms. Harris and four librarians to classes at the Makerbot store in New York City and to purchase more plastic filament. In March, the librarians are taking a class on the Replicator 2, the Makerbot model the library owns. Ms. Harris attended a 3D design class last Sunday.
“We learned how to do some basic 3D design stuff which would be to take something called a primitive shape, which are your basic shapes—your circles, your spheres, your cylinders, cones, things of that nature—and merge them together to build different things. So, you can actually merge them together to build like a little robot or design a sculpture,” she said.
The Hampton Library started its promotional push for the printer this month, printing parts for people to “sort of see it in action, see what we can do,” Ms. Harris said. In early March, the library will host the monthly Technology Information Forum meeting for the Suffolk County Library Association’s Computer and Technical Services Division to show other libraries what the printer is capable of, discuss different online printing programs and demonstrate how the technology works.
3D Design classes for kids and teenagers will start at the library in the spring. “It’s something new, it’s something different, it’s something where they can try and design something on their own. And then we can print it for them in whatever color they like, or if they need it to be two-toned, we can actually print two colors. It’s actually a cool thing,” Ms. Harris said.
In addition to being “cool,” the printer has countless practical uses for the community. One patron is planning on printing a plastic washer to fix a leaking washing machine. The librarians started their training by printing out nuts and bolts. If a family loses a game piece, they can come to the library and print out a new one. Ms. Harris is currently working on a Parcheesi piece, but the possibilities are endless.
“You get those great big Lego sets and all you need is to lose one tiny piece and you can’t put together the battleship you’re making or the airplane,” she said. “Well, now you can really take a piece that’s like it, we can scan it, digitize it and we can print you a whole new working piece for that.”
Hopeful the Makerbot will be open for public printing by the fall, Ms. Harris first wants to ensure the librarians are well versed in the machine and prepared to troubleshoot the printer and professionally assist patrons with ease.
“At this point,” she said, “if somebody came in tomorrow and said, ‘Hey, look I just lost the symbol for my Monopoly game,’ we would find a way to print that for them and we would. It really is fun and the sky’s the limit. You’re only limited by your familiarity with the 3D design software—which we are getting better with every day—and then also, your imagination.”