Drop the idea that a printer only prints. A 3D printer creates.
The TAZ 4, the latest piece of equipment in the Digital Media Lab at the Homewood Public Library, shows how revolutionary changes in computer technology are altering our world.
Tori Alt, the library’s emerging technologies assistant, said the printer uses code instruction from the computer, but rather than the traditional ink on paper this printer uses an additive process to create an object with molten plastic.
Long before the 3D printer came on the scene, libraries were for books and manufacturing was left to businesses that created molds for products. In today’s world, library patrons are finding new ways to communicate. Books are still essential, but they also get to try out video and music recording equipment, and the 3D printer.
“I believe the TAZ 4 was a great investment to the library,” Alt said, “We are able to print large objects, replacement parts, use a multitude of filaments, and even hack the printer to better serve our needs.
“Most importantly, we are able to offer this resource to all of our patrons,” which follows the American Library Association's idea of ‘equity in access’ making materials available to all patrons, she added.
And Alt appreciates that the printer is certified open source for the exchange of computer software programs freely used, changed, and shared (in modified or unmodified form) by anyone.
The 3D printer is producing simple creations, such as a toy dragon, with a few clicks of the computer mouse. The TAZ 4 reads the computer coordinates on an STL file, heats the plastic and starts building the model.
“What happens is the printer can read those layers and they’re sliced into what’s called G code and once the printer reads it, it starts building an object layer by layer” using melting plastic, Alt noted. “It’s quite fascinating.”
Alt points out the heated bed, a flat piece of glass that serves as the foundation for any project. The plastic, purchased as a bolt of long string, is fed into the printer’s mechanism. It becomes easily pliable when it’s heated to between 180 and 230 degrees Celsius. As the plastic melts, it sits on that heated bed.
The Media Lab is using four different plastics in various colors. More colors will be added soon. Depending on the project, Alt will either recommend a rigid plastic, such as PLA or ABS, or a stretchy flexible plastic called Ninjaflex.
The PLA plastic is classified a green product because it’s made from corn and is biodegradable. But Alt cautions that it doesn’t have the sturdiness of other plastics, and she doesn’t recommend leaving your creation on your car’s dashboard — it might melt.
“Our printer also prints bendable filaments, so if you want you can print a squishy iPhone case,” Alt said.
Highly sophisticated 3D printers are being used to create prototypes of products. Alt gives her 3D Printing Class participants information on the latest advances in the 3D world, including trends in clothing. One manufacturer is planning a chocolate 3D printer, and another is preparing to release a 3D liquid ink drawing pen.
It’s all pretty amazing to the class participants. Seventh grader Taylor Washington of Flossmoor is making a pair of fun 3D glasses for herself. Joseph Cole of Homewood is a regular visitor to the Digital Media Lab.
“It’s really cool,” he says. The seventh grader is creating a 3D ring.
Homewood resident Lanissa Spear-Jones came to the library to get pointers from Alt now that she owns a 3D printer. Spear-Jones is a 7th grade science teacher in Lansing and will be sharing her printer and projects with her students next school year.
The Digital Media Lab is a creative technology studio with top-of-the-line software and equipment that will allow guests to create high-quality projects in many different media.
The next 3D Printing Club meeting is at 5 p.m. Thursday, June 18. Registration is required and can be made at 708-798-0121, ext. 232.
Contact Marilyn Thomas at [email protected]