INNISFAIL – With some imagination and a little bit of “goo” citizens can go to the Innisfail Public Library and just print off that special “thing” you always wanted but never thought of just creating it yourself.
But you can now have that "thing," whether it’s a toy figurine or some practical gadget piece needed for a car or office.
The library has now joined many others in the region with its recent acquisition of a space-age 3D printer.
“It prints things in 3D. A lot of libraries have had them for a long time,” said Tara Downs, manager of the library, who noted there are 3D printers at the Olds and Didsbury public libraries. “When I originally thought about purchasing it, one of the questions I asked was, ‘is there one locally that people do have public access to?'
“And there isn’t,” she added. “Hopefully this might be able to be used in conjunction with kids that are interested in technology, since there isn’t anything locally like that.”
Earlier this year, the library received a grant of $3,000 to purchase the 3D printer, along with supplies and cabinet, from the new Community Benefit Grant that was established by the Town of Innisfail and Elemental Energy, the developer of the new Innisfail Solar Farm.
However, the new 3D printer was not up and running until about July. But it has quickly gained popularity.
“Kids are really excited to come and print random things, like Pokémon and little figurine movies and television shows are super exciting for the kids,” said Madison Brooks, the library’s summer student. “Just the idea to create something from nothing is just very exciting for them.”
She added the grown-ups have taken an early liking as well. “We’ve even has someone print off a plate that they use to plug into their car. They use it to hold their phone charger, so something practical that they were super excited to come and get,” she said.
So how does a 3D printer work?
The printer uses a PLA filament, a plastic biodegradable material that is prepared from vegetables, especially cornstarch. It is melted by the print head into fine threads and builds the print in layers.
“A lot of people use it to make spare parts for things they might not have or not be able to access anymore,” said Downs. She said there are many practical things that can be made by the 3-D printer like a toothpaste cap, or woodworking gadgets and USB and SD card holders for desks.
As for assistance to get that practical “thing” ready for the 3D printer there are helpful websites, like Thingiverse.com that has a wide variety of models created by others.
“You can also find all of those websites on the library website,” said Brooks, who has been facilitating basic hour-long 3D printing training sessions for youth this summer. “If you want to start fresh, we have a few that start fresh. We also have a few that start with different pre-build programming that you can just place right into the computer.”
Once the chosen model is downloaded it is loaded into a slicer program that essentially tells the printer how to print the model, which is in slices or layers.
“And then it just melts the goo, the filament, and prints the object,” said Downs with a chuckle.
Citizens can send files to the library for 3D printing, and the cost is not prohibitive. There is a $2 set-up fee cost along with a consumable charge of 15 cents per gram of PLA.
“It’s honestly super easy to learn. I grew up with technologies, so I have a vague understanding of computers work and the programs are super easy to navigate through,” said Brooks. “And I had the extra time to play on the computer to do so and I got to teach people what I got to do through trial and error.”