Adventures in 3D Printing!

Glen Burnie Regional Library’s 3D printing journey began in August of 2016 when we received a LulzBot Mini printer with about six weeks to gain enough proficiency to use it for public print jobs. Terrifying and exciting all at once. Really, the only way to learn how to use one of these is to just start using it. 

Well, use it we did! We learned to use Thingiverse, an online community for discovering and sharing 3D printable designs, to find print jobs to set up and practice. The twofold benefit here, we learned to use the equipment, and we learned Thingiverse, which we recommend to our customers on a weekly basis. 

A white figurine of a rhino that was printed on the 3D printer at the library.Photograph of a bright yellow octopus figurine that was created using the 3D printer at the library.This photograph shows the gyroscope figurine that was printed on the 3D printer at the library. Written on the gyroscope is the time the print job took (3 hours), the mass (51 grams), and the price ($12.75).

Our most complicated job to date was a catapult. It had to print in three or four separate jobs because only so many parts would fit on the bed. The customer homeschools her children, and this project taught them a bit of history and a bit of physics (potential energy). I taught her boys that if you lick the marshmallow before launching it, it’ll stick to the wall. Mom thanked me profusely for that bit of advice 😉 

One of the most interesting jobs we’ve received was brought to us in February — a gyroscope! It was designed by a young man and set up to print in a single job. We explained that we do not refund failed print jobs. He understood and said go for it. It worked! I was totally convinced the hinges where it spins would be seized up by the molten plastic. By the time I removed it from the printer bed all of the hinges had snapped free and it rotated in multiple directions at once. WOW. We were all very impressed that the customer had designed this himself. Thankfully, he gave us permission to keep a copy and share. 

Three of us are particularly dedicated to the printer and several others are rapidly gaining confidence. Things have not always gone smoothly. We’ve had a few failed print jobs. In one case, a customer wanted small figurines to use while gaming. Out of nine pieces, three were troublesome. Taking it personally, I decided to change the print settings, which fixed the problem for two of the figures. That left one. A zombie with his arms outstretched. I tried everything, even laying it down. No luck. So I found another figure and substituted it. I was able to do this since I knew how the customer was going to use them. The end result was a happy customer who got what he needed. 

For all the fretting we went through before opening this to the public, it really is easy to use. Every print job is an opportunity to learn, and if one fails….it’s an even better learning experience. We are glad to be able to offer this technology to our customers. 

This is the type of equipment that promises to make a big impact in the world around us. In the news, there have been articles about the use of this technology in medicine. Prosthetic limbs are being printed, as well as dental appliances. Research is currently being conducted on printing artificial hearts, kidneys and livers, as well as, other major structures. Clearly, the future is now!  

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