The Valdosta Daily Times
It sounds like something out of science fiction. A printer that, after you feed a design to it, prints not a flat, 2-D image, but an actual object: a cup, a fork, a small pyramid, a chess set. It sounds like science fiction, but in truth, 3-D printers have been catching on more and more in recent years and getting cheaper and cheaper.
“The possibilities are limitless,” said Michael Holt, assistant professor and reference librarian at Valdosta State University’s Odum Library. After hearing a story on National Public Radio about a maker space in a New York public library, Holt started looking into the possibility of getting a 3-D printer for Odum Library and creating a maker space where students could use them.
“We put it together on a shoestring budget,” said Holt. “Except for the printers themselves, everything else here is surplus material from IT.”
Dubbed Maker Bot, the 3-D printer is open to all students.
“I wanted it to be accessible to students of any major,” said Holt. “This way, it can foster interdisciplinary projects between students, as well as giving students new skills.”
It starts with a design file. Using a program called CAD, students build a full, 3-D layout for the object.
With a design file uploaded, 3-D printers can use a variety of materials to print with: polymers, resin, plastics, even chocolate (sadly, Odum Library’s Maker Space does not use chocolate, just ABS plastic). The material is packed into cartridges, similar to ink cartridges for a normal printer, but larger. The printer then builds the design, layer by layer.
Afterwards, excess plastic from the printing is put aside to be recycled later for future projects.
Maker Bot can build something as small as half of your pinkie nail to as large as a loaf of bread. The average printing time is about a half-hour to two hours, but some large projects have taken 24 hours to complete.
Students have designed and printed whistles, tabletop gaming figures, a chess set, an Iron Man mask, even a wind turbine.
“The turbine is actually printed out piece by piece, then put together,” said Holt.
There’s a lot of talk about what libraries are going to be in the digital age. Holt would like to see them becoming central collaborative spaces where students come to learn from other students, not because of a class, but because they want to.
Along with the Maker Bots, the Maker Space has an isolated computer network for students to use. Starting in the fall, the Maker Space will expand to include development kits for the Android and iOS systems.
“It really fits with the academic missions of the college,” said Holt. “We’re giving students new skills and abilities, giving them something that can be a spark for learning ... students can collaborate and let their minds go.”