Written by Olivia McLean
Although it sounds like a future invention, 3D printing has made its way onto the VSU campus.
This past year, VSU purchased two machines named the Replicator—a desktop 3D printer introduced in January 2012 and manufactured by MakerBot Industries.
“Basically, it uses plastic to build things in layers,” Michael Holt, assistant professor and reference librarian, said. “If you can picture taking any sort of object that you can think of and sort of slice it into a bunch of layers, the computer program here renders those layers and tells the printer how to build it layer-by-layer.
3D printing has been around for many years, tracing back to the 1980s, but hobbyist-level machines weren’t created until 2009.
“(3D printers) came out of an international project to make a 3D printer that was capable of fully replicating itself,” Holt said. “That was called the RepRap Project, and while it has refined itself more and more, it can only print support parts for the printer.”
With the continuous development of 3D printing services, the cost of the technology has decreased.
According to the New York Times, the price of 3D printers has dropped sharply over the last two years, with machines that once cost $20,000, now at $1,000 or less.
“They typically are around $2,000 a piece, but if anybody is desperate to get one in their homes, they have 3D printers available for $500,” Holt said.
Having the Replicator on the VSU campus brings Holt one step closer toward his efforts of getting students’ creative juices flowing.
“(The machines) are parts of my larger vision to have a collaborative maker space here in the library which is basically a central place for people, regardless of their academic discipline, to come and get their hands into the creation of things whether it’s 3D prints, website creation, app creation, any sort of programming, or electronic circuit building—even things as varied as cosplay or sewing,” Holt said.
Holt has made multiple figurines and even a full chess set.
“Right now we have made all sorts of things with it like practical household items such as bottle openers,” Holt said.
Depending on the complexity of the object that is being printed, it may take anywhere from 10 minutes to 10 hours to be completed.
Holt, along with other librarians, is trying to make the Replicator available for student use by the fall.
“The plan right now is to keep one in the maker space and to move one down to (the media center) for more general use,” Holt said. “There will be a slight fee to use it, just solely so we can keep ourselves in the materials. The stuff that the printer uses isn’t free, so we have to cover our costs.”
For more information, contact Holt at firstname.lastname@example.org.