Small crowds have been gathering at the information desk at Valley Library over the last few weeks, but they’re not there to ask where to find the latest New York Times bestseller. Instead, they’re focused on a small, boxy printer steadily humming away on a corner of the desk.
Depending on when they’re visiting, they could be watching anything from an elephant to an octopus to jewelry taking shape. A new 3-D printer began cranking out student-based projects during the first week of Spring Term, and so far the printer has created objects ranging from a replica of a human heart to a Nerf gun part. The new printer was purchased by the Friends of the Library, as a way to offer access to technology that some students might never be able to utilize.
“While there are some 3-D printers in other colleges and departments, we wanted to widen access to all students and majors,” said Margaret Mellinger, who is the engineering librarian for OSU Libraries. Additionally, OSU students who use the library were polled last year about what kind of new technology they’d like to see added, and they overwhelmingly selected a 3-D printer as one of their choices.
During Spring term, the printer is available for use to students for free, but there’s already a long queue of projects that poured in as soon as a reservation system was put into place. And since some projects can take almost two days to print, it may be awhile before some projects end up appearing in their three dimensional glory. But reaction so far has been very positive.
“Students are very grateful for the opportunity,” Mellinger said. Not only does having access to the printer allow students to create anything from class room projects to pieces for their favorite role playing game, but even those without projects in the queue are very interested in watching a 3-D printer at work. A web camera directly aimed at the printer has created a lot of buzz on social media, and visitors to the printer often admit they’ve been watching progress on their personal computers.
The printer uses PLA (polylactic acid), a plastic that is derived from renewable resources (such as corn starch and sugar cane). The plastic comes in spools of filament that feed into the printer and heat up, and the filament is then layered in very thin portions back and forth, based on specs provided by the customer. The 3-D object is eventually formed in anywhere from a few hours to several days, based on size and complexity.
David Manela, IT consultant OSU Libraries, has taken charge of the project, and spends a lot of his time answering questions about the printer and working out any kinks that arise. For instance, there’s a design flaw in the printer that occasionally causes the filament to tangle on its way from the spool to the printing mechanism. After doing some research online, he found a pattern for a bracket that would hold the filament out and prevent the tangling. So he programmed the printer to make the part.
“It’s like it’s self-healing,” he joked.
Laurie Bridges, emerging technologies librarian, said they knew that putting the 3-D printer in a public area would draw more interest, and even though there are others on campus, the novelty and the accessibility of the library printer makes it unique. And even the creations themselves cause a buzz. She said she’d been watching the elephant slowly grow on the web cam, and then ran into the student who’d ordered it.
“I saw her walking out of the library carrying the elephant under her arm,” she said. “It was super cool.”
Projects must fit within an 11” by 6“ by 6” space, and users must provide the library with a correctly formatted file using a Stereolithography file, with an STL extension. Patterns can be found at sites such as Thingiverse.com.
After Spring Term ends, anyone with an ONID account can place an order for a 3-D print job with the library. The cost will be 10 cents per gram, which can be determined at the time of the order. So whether you need a replica crown from “Game of Thrones” or a giant version of an anthrax spore, if you can design it, the printer at Valley Library can probably build it.
For more information: http://guides.library.oregonstate.edu/3dprinting
The web cam is available here: http://webcam.oregonstate.edu/3dprinter/stream.php