Spark Labs 101: 3D Printing

08 Aug Spark Labs 101: 3D Printing

If you’re like me, when you first learned 3D printing existed you might have thought it was a made up technology.  How could a printer actually print off tools, spare parts, jewelry, key chains, edible chocolate?  (Do I have your attention now?)  We traditionally associate printers with paper and ink.  So a printer that produces a new, functioning coffee mug for my cupboard sounds rather far fetched.     

It’s actually quite true–yes, even the chocolate.  And 3D printers are not all that new.  The first working models popped up in the late 1980s/early 1990s.  Lately, they’ve picked up steam because companies are striving to make them cheaper and more accessible to the public.  

So how, exactly, do 3D printers work if it’s not science fiction?  3D printers operate under additive technological.  Literally, the printer adds one layer of material at a time to make a print.  The bigger the print, the more layers the printer adds.  

This probably takes a long time, right?  Yes, it can take a long time, but that all depends on the size of your print–just like a big document on a computer would also take a long time to print.     

How does a 3D printer add layers? Inside of the 3D printer is an extruder.  That part heats up the material, usually a biodegradable plastic, to 200 degrees Celsius or about 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Once the plastic is melted, it easily sets in position to form a layer of the print.  The plastic cools quickly with the help of a built-in fan, which allows the printer to keep adding layers.     

How do I make a 3D print? To start off you can either make or download an .stl file.  There’s no limit to what you can design and print from a 3D printer, except for your own creativity.  

How do you use the 3D printer at the library? We teach classes on designing files (no experience necessary!), and soon we will teach classes on printing off files.  Keep an eagle eye on all upcoming library events for your chance to interact with the library’s 3D printers.