Library’s 3D printing program unleashes imagination

By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer,

Over the years, public libraries have often provided access to technology that average citizens needed, but could not afford to own. As services like printing, faxing, e-books and broadband Internet are available for free or at low cost, it only follows that the library would offer easy access to the next wave of high tech – namely, 3D printing.

“For the public, for the community, we are the go-to center for a lot of technology,” says Jimmie Epling, Darlington County Library System director. “We try to stay up to date on the services we offer.”

Libraries in Darlington, Hartsville and Lamar now offer custom design and 3D printing services. At the Darlington Library, reference assistant Tony Watkins uses a computer-assisted design program to craft models of logos, names, signs and custom projects. These designs are transformed from two-dimensional concepts into three-dimensional objects that patrons can purchase and take home.

“I think what’s so exciting about 3D printing is the ability to create something basically from scratch,” says Watkins.

He notes that while the Darlington Library has two consumer-grade 3D printers, the technology’s cutting edge includes some pretty amazing innovations. Healthcare specialists are constructing affordable prosthetic limbs for patients. Scientists are working to build functional human tissues and organs with bioprinting. Construction companies are creating 3D printed cement homes. NASA plans to use 3D printing to build habitable structures on Mars.

“The applications are almost limitless,” Watkins says.

Watkins demonstrated the design process and printed a sample object on the Lulzbot printer – a compact unit capable of building nearly any small object within the boundaries of one’s imagination. This FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) machine heats thermoplastic filament and extrudes the material through a nozzle, creating the design from the bottom up.

“Think of it as a hot glue gun that just lays down layer after layer of material to build up your object,” says Epling.

While exploring the possibilities of 3D printing, Epling says some library staffers have created unique pieces of pop culture art (figurines, toys, etc.) that would cost over $100 if purchased from retailers.

“By making it themselves, they spent perhaps $50 on materials.

“Plus, when you design it yourself, it will look exactly like you want it to look,” Epling says.

Like Watkins, Epling sees great potential for local businesses and individuals in the field of 3D printing. To help spread the word, the library offers classes for those interested in learning more.

Epling says the 3D printing classes for adults have drawn only about half a dozen participants, while 10 to 13 home schooled students are taking the youth classes. The program is split into four parts, introducing the possibilities of the technology, learning the 3D Builder design software, exploring websites packed with customizable pre-designed models available for purchase, and operating the 3D printer.

To ask about enrolling in these classes or to inquire about the 3D printing service, contact your local library branch. Call the Darlington Library at 843-398-4940, the Hartsville Library at 843-332-5115, or the Lamar Library at 843-326-5524.

Author: Rachel Howell

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