I met the MakerBot

Last night was the Meet the MakerBot Event at Oakville Public Library, to demonstrate their new 3D printer to the public. Maker culture is becoming increasingly popular, and a lot of libraries are purchasing 3D printers and making them available to their patrons for use. There were some 3D printer demonstrations at the OLA Super Conference this year, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend any of them (too many interesting things!), so I was excited to find out that my local library was offering this demo.

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3D printing is a way of making a 3 dimensional object from a digital file. You design something using a 3D modeling program, like Tinkercad or AutoDesk 123D, which then turns the design into hundreds and thousands of layers. The printer is basically a hot glue gun that puts down layers of a  special plastic wire into the pattern, and creates the object. You can check out this link for more information about how 3D printing works. Here’s an elephant that they stopped printing in the middle that shows what it looks like inside.

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We weren’t able to make anything ourselves, though there are workshops for kids and teens to sign up and make things themselves–it just takes too long to print things to do at a demonstration. There were 2 slide shows running that you could sit and watch, one about 3D printers in general and about OPL’s programs and plans for it, and one that looped some YouTube videos about Maker Culture and what people are doing with 3D printers–I was fascinated by the one about using a 3D printer to make moving prosthetic hands for people. Imagine that, making yourself a hand. Some parents of children with birth defects in their hands reached out to the man who was experimenting with printing himself a hand, and he was able to make the children a hand that could curl the fingers and grasp an object, something they had never been able to do before. The hands are even recyclable–when you outgrow one, you can rescale the design and make a new one, and give the old hand to someone else who needs it. Talk about people giving each other a hand…

(sorry, I couldn’t resist)

They started off trying to make a castle during the demo, but there seems to be something wrong with the design they were using, because it wouldn’t work. Oh well–experimentation is half the fun! They restarted the printer making another dinosaur like the one above, which takes about 3 hours so we didn’t see it completed during the event. Here’s a closer picture of the completed dinosaur and the work in progress:

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Since it’s printed in layers, it has to be built with supports that can be cut away when completed to make parts like the arms, tail and head. The picture of the wolf shows some of the supports left on, which would normally be cut away.

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And here’s a figure with chicken legs that were too thin and broke because the supports weren’t enough. The broken figure is on the left and the base with the feet is on the right. Anything that is made with the 3D printer must be able to exist according to normal physics, so something that is too top-heavy will break. You can get some free designs from Thingiverse, which is a great resource for people to share their designs.

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Here’s a little TARDIS charm, that shows how fine the detail work can be, and a picture to show you the scale.

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This is a pair of train tracks that they made. They made the two pieces separated, but at the same time. You can make multiple objects at the same time as long as you start them at the same time–you can’t start an object and then start another one while the first is still in progress. The train tracks fit together really nicely.

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Their teen workshop made a bunch of little superhero action figures.

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Here’s Superman and Batman, though the chest symbols can be a little hard to make out in the pictures.

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Fortunately the plastic takes paint very nicely, if you want your creation to be multiple colours (this model printer can only work with one colour of plastic at a time, though there are many different colours that you can buy).

Oakville-20140624-00778The whole event was hugely fascinating. They had a few laptops set up so you could look at Thingiverse designs and some of the CAD programs, which was a ton of fun once I was able to get some time on one (the kids loved playing with them). The volunteers and library staff were very knowledgeable and willing to answer any questions–I had a lot! Though I think the most knowledgeable one of all was a mid-teens boy who was attending the event–he seemed to know more about how the printers work than everyone else there! I particularly want to compliment Stephanie from the Children’s Department–she was standing right beside the printer and was incredibly patient with all of the kids (and me) asking her incessant questions.

It was a really fun event, and the 3D printer and it’s possibilities are fascinating. We really are living in a Star Trek world–we have communicators and PADDs (cell phones and tablets) and now we’re on our way to having replicators. I hope they have some workshops for adults soon–I want to play with one some more!

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