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From screen to reality: Denton library brings 3-D printing

From screen to reality: Denton library brings 3-D printing

From screen to reality: Denton library brings 3-D printing
April 22
02:08 2014

Obed Manuel // Senior Staff Writer

Could the next great design mastermind be walking around the Denton North Library Branch?

If so, Kimberly Wells, manager of the North Branch, said she hopes the availability of the library’s 3-D printer will provide a necessary tool for individuals to develop ideas.

“We’re hoping that kids and adults that are into engineering or design use this as a learning opportunity and that they come to understand this technology as a new way of expressing creative ideas,” Wells said.

The library’s MakerBot 3-D printer will be available May 5 to anyone with a library membership.

Trey Ford, technology librarian at Denton North Library, said he was thrilled to learn the library would be purchasing a 3-D printer.

Since the $2,200 printer was brought in, Ford said he has been designing and printing objects to familiarize himself with the machine.

“These things that seemed like they were only possible in science fiction are now a reality,” Ford said.

Ford said he will be teaching classes at the branch on how to use the design software. For the most part, learning the program is the most complicated aspect of 3-D printing, he said.

The printer has a maximum printing volume of 11.2 inches wide, 6 inches long and 6.1 inches tall. The material used for printing is polylactic acid (PLA), which Ford said is similar to the string material used in weed whackers.

Ford said users will design objects on the software and turn in files to library staff. The staff will be the only ones with direct access to the printer.

There will be a charge of 50 cents for every 10 grams of PLA used during printing.

Ford said he hopes the library’s visitors will make the most of the printer’s availability.

“I want them to be able to hold something they created,” Ford said. “They took the idea and designed it and are now going to be able to hold it in their hands thanks to this machine.”

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3-D printing at UNT 

Though the printer is new to the public library, it’s not necessarily new to Denton. 3-D printing is also available to UNT art and engineering students.

Art technician Jeff McClung said the College of Visual Art and Design purchased the ProJet 1500 toward the end of last summer.

McClung, who oversees all the machinery at the CVAD woodshop, said students who use the printer are learning how to operate new technology.

“The advantage to them is employability when they graduate,” McClung said. “It’s becoming such a necessary skill across so many industries.”

McClung said the printers make the manufacturing process more efficient.

“You can produce something, test it,” McClung said. “If you don’t like it, go back in the computer, change it and print it out.”

Mechanical and energy engineering professor Aleksandra Fortier said the College of Engineering has a ProJet 3500 3-D printer available for its students.

Fortier said the availability of 3-D printers presents a practical and safe method of prototype building.

“It is great representation of modern and advanced manufacturing process for students to learn where traditional manufacturing processes for making parts like cutting, milling, drilling, welding are substituted by computer software and the 3-D printer itself,” Fortier said. “In other words, students can learn to make complex parts by using their creativity and the 3-D printer.”

Fortier also said 3-D printers have the capability of making complex working parts that sometimes take too long to build by hand.

Controversy around 3-D printers

In 2012, an Austin-based nonprofit called Defense Distributed made waves when its founder, Cody Wilson, planned to design and produce a fully usable handgun using a 3-D printer, according to Forbes.

Also in 2012, Michael Guslick, an amateur gunsmith from New York City, printed the lower receiver of a semi-automatic AR-15 in his home, as was reported by the New York Daily News.

Ford, of the Denton library, said he is familiar with those concerns, but they don’t worry him because the printer in the library has limited capabilities.

“Everybody always talks about the gun thing. You couldn’t print a functional gun if you wanted to on this. It wouldn’t work,” Ford said. “This won’t even print a knife that will cut.”

Fortier said that with every advancement in technology there is potential for backlash—that will never change.

“I think it highly depends on people in possession of these weapons made by 3-D printers and what is their main purpose, so I won’t put the main concern on the capability of the 3-D printer but really on who is using it and for what,” Fortier said.

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Center photo: Shop supervisor Jeff McClung proudly talks about the 3D printer inside the Art Building’s fabrication lab. The Proset 1500 was purchased last August for roughly $20,000. Photo by Edward Balusek / Staff Photographer 

Bottom photo: Two miniature radial airplane engines printed by the 3D printer in the fabrication lab of the Art Building. The engines took roughly four hours each to make. Photo by Edward Balusek / Staff Photographer 

Feature photo: The art department’s 3D printer slowly but surely builds a miniature radial airplane engine at four thousandths of an inch per second. The printer uses a liquid plastic to form its printed objects. Photo by Edward Balusek / Staff Photographer 

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