Everyone has seen a paper printer. But not everyone has seen, or even heard of, a 3D printer. This technology takes a set of plans and builds a 3D object out of plastic before your eyes. Here, the Makerbot Replicator II is printing a pair of handball goggles.
The Makerbot Replicator II is housed in the University of West Florida John C. Pace Library’s Skylab. John Barksdale is the Skylab technology manager.
“We’ll take a look at their model and see that it looks okay, and we can see how much plastic it’s gonna take to make the model and give them a price on what it’s gonna cost. It could run anywhere from a dollar and ten cents up to ten to twelve dollars, depending on the size,” Barksdale said.
UWF’s art department maintains four 3D printers for its students, but the Skylab’s printer is available for use by all UWF students, faculty and staff. A UWF Nautilus card is required to pay for the printing service, so is not open to the general public.
“We’re hoping to support innovative instruction at UWF and that’s part of the strategic plan, and it’s an opportunity to make prototypes, physical models that can be used in the classroom,” Barksdale said.
Makerbot operates the site Thingiverse, which contains thousands of 3D models that users can download and print. However, Barksdale hopes that students and the rest of the campus community will take interest in the designing process.
“We want it to be a learning experience,” Barksdale said. “We’re not gonna be like the 3D printer store where you come up here, ‘Hey, I want an iPhone 4 case.’ We really want people to come up here and create stuff with 3D modeling software and learn.”
One of the Skylab assistants trained to operate the 3D printer is Perry Journey, a junior at UWF studying computer engineering.
“The University’s had 3D printers before, but they’ve never been available to students quite as much as this one has been,” Journey said. “We’re really trying to reach out to students to give them an opportunity to learn newer technologies.”
The Makerbot Replicator II is a fifth-generation 3D printer. The seemingly futuristic technology was invented nearly 30 years ago.
“3D printing has been around since the 80s, and the patents have just freed up recently, so there’s been an explosion of companies in 3D printing. This one is one of the earlier models and one of the earlier companies since that explosion,” Journey said.
On the table next to the printer is the Makerbot Digitizer, a scanner that uses lasers and a camera to create 3D models of objects placed on its turntable. However, the scanning software may not generate a perfect replica of the item, and the model may need to be edited in 3D modeling software for a more accurate print.
“There’s obvious restrictions, such as weapons and stuff, but as long as it’s a reasonable thing, no, there’s no restriction other than size, what the printer can actually produce,” Journey said.
More information about the Skylab is available at libguides.uwf.edu/skylab.
Katya Ivanov, WUWF News