Like Backstreet Boys, Slim Shady and the Terminator, 3-D printing is back.
If you missed last year’s 3-D printer demonstration at the Southold Free Library, you’re in luck: the technology is here for the rest of July. But this time, instead of being used didactically as part of a demonstration, the printer at Southold can make things its patrons want.
“This year, we’ve upped the game,” said Roger Reyes, business manager for the Suffolk County Library System. “Last year was a taste of what it’s like. This year is a user experience.”
A MakerBot 3-D printer, digitizer and laptop arrived at the library Monday. The full display sits directly across from the checkout desk, open for visitors to ogle and wonder.
And anyone who wants to make something with the printer can do so. David van Popering, the library’s network administrator, put free software and tutorials on all the public computers so people can learn how to print their own trinkets, toys and gadgets.
“This gives people a chance to see what the new, interesting technology is,” he said. “It’s popular, it’s out there and it’s common. You can go to the store and buy one yourself, but not everyone has one, so this gives people a chance to see one in action.”
Mr. van Popering said he will assist others using the machine so it is used properly. He is also keeping track of a wish list of items that people want to see him make.
The Suffolk County Library System has two full setups and one individual printer, each of which goes to one library per month.
Member libraries collectively paid for the technology. Each setup — one printer, one digitizer and one computer — cost about $4,000 plus and additional $50 per month for materials.
“For the smaller communities and the mid-sized communities who don’t have [a 3-D printer] in their budgets or just are not equipped to make that leap, they have it available at a very minimal cost,” Mr. Reyes said.
As fascinating as the 3-D printer is, however, the digitizer is the one that seems most like a machine straight out of science fiction: place an object on it and lasers will shoot out and scan it, giving you a digital file that you can then print. Mr. van Popering once did so with a starfish, and quickly enough he had a plastic copy of the original aquatic creature.
To print an object like a keychain with your favorite cartoon character, you first need to download a pre-made design from a website such as thingiverse.com. Or, if you’re feeling particularly daring, you can design it yourself in 123D Design software available on the library’s computers.
After a design is picked, the file is saved and move into the MakerBot software on the laptop next to the machine. That produces a file for the printer to read.
The printer itself works by heating a specific type of plastic until it is malleable. Then, a nozzle moves back and forth spraying hot plastic, slowly building layer upon layer until the object takes on three dimensions. Once cool, the plastic hardens.
In addition to bracelets and keychains, typical items the machine makes includes missing Lego pieces.
“What’s really nice is that if you need a part, you don’t necessarily have to send away to China and wait a month,” Mr. van Popering said. “People can [print it] in a factory locally and have it within an hour.”
One spool of the hot plastic could produce “thousands” of bracelets, Mr. van Popering said, and those bracelets have been the most popular request in the printer’s first few days.
But the technology is not limited to knickknacks or flashy paperweights. Mr. van Popering has also printed a nut and bolt.
He’s even building a telescope by combining a 16-inch diameter mirror with parts from a 3-D printer.
“My girlfriend works at Brookhaven Lab, so she helped me design some parts for it that we couldn’t have made anywhere else,” he said.
On Wednesday, Kea Magnuson walked into the library with her sons Ethan, 12, and Hunter, 10, and immediately stopped and stared at the machine with fascination.
“You read about them, but to actually see it work is great,” Ms. Magnuson said. “I have a feeling everyone’s going to be lining up with wish lists.”
The technology will also make its way to other East End libraries. In August, the Cutchogue New Suffolk Free Library will host a printer. In November, both the Mattituck-Laurel Library and the Floyd Memorial Library in Greenport will each host a full setup.