In June of 2013, the Library used a state technology grant to purchase a MakerBot "Replicator 2" desktop 3D printer. The Replicator 2 is MakerBot's 4th-generation 3D printer, with a build volume of 11.2 L x 6.0 W x 6.1 H inches. It uses PLA (polylactic acid plastic) filament, which is made from corn, cane sugar, or glucose. PLA is safer for the environment than other types of plastic filament, and can be recycled. Due to high demand, the library recently added a second Replicator 2 printer.
3D printing is also known as "additive manufacturing". It's the process of creating three-dimensional objects from computer-aided designs (CAD) or "virtual" models. The 3D printer, using software to translate designs into cross-sectional "slices", lays down those slices as thin layers of melted plastic, metal, or other material. An object is literally built layer upon layer. Watch a 3D printer in action in this brief video on the 3D printing process from Create It Real.
3D printing is used in a variety of fields, from DIYers with desktop printers to corporations using commercial printers to create prototypes of new products and customized items. Just recently, NASA successfully printed and used a rocket engine injector made via 3D printer. The health care field is also investigating the many uses of 3D printers, most notably in producing casts, implants, and prostheses, and potentially in printing skin and other organs. Artists and designers are exploring 3D printing, as well.
The better question is "How can I use the 3D printer?" The Replicator 2 was bought with the goal of giving everyone in our community the opportunity to make their designs and creations real, and to foster creativity and learning. We view the addition of a 3D printer as helping to fulfill our larger mission of introducing and supporting STEM programming within the Library.