Vernon Area library purchases 3-D printers for public use

  • Caitlin Myers, an instruction and technology librarian at the Vernon Area Public Library, explains how blue plastic filament feeds from a spool into one of the Lincolnshire facility's new 3-D printers.

      Caitlin Myers, an instruction and technology librarian at the Vernon Area Public Library, explains how blue plastic filament feeds from a spool into one of the Lincolnshire facility's new 3-D printers. Russell Lissau | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 10/12/2017 5:06 PM

During a demonstration of the Vernon Area Public Library's new 3-D printers on Thursday, library spokeswoman Catherine Savage had a very practical question.

"Can they print washing machine bearings?" Savage asked Caitlin Myers, an instruction and technology librarian at the Lincolnshire facility. "Because I have a guy coming tomorrow."

 

And the answer is: Yes, they can. Whether or not the new plastic parts could perform as well as the original metal ones is a different story, of course.

But that's the thing about 3-D printers -- if you can envision an object and create dimensional specifications for it, a printer can make it.

Vernon Area joins the Fremont Public Library in Mundelein, the Ela Area Public Library in Lake Zurich and the Wauconda Area Library among the Lake County libraries offering 3-D printers to patrons.

Vernon Area purchased two printers this summer, and they should be ready for public use in January.

One is a LulzBot Mini that will be displayed in the library lobby so people can see projects in progress and hopefully be inspired to use the machines for their own creations.

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"Because the service is so new, it'll be important to keep reminding patrons that it exists," Savage said.

The other printer is a LulzBot Taz 6 that will be kept in an office. Larger than the LulzBot Mini, it can print bigger objects as well as several items in quick succession.

A 3-D printer shapes melted plastic into objects based on specifications entered into a computer. But it's not a molding machine like the ones found at Chicago museums. Rather, a printer methodically extrudes the plastic drop by drop onto a tray until the creation is complete.

Chess pieces, jewelry, tools, dice and figurines are just some of the objects people can make with 3-D printers.

At other libraries, Myers has seen kids create parts for homemade fidget spinners, the whirling toys that became ubiquitous this spring.

"Those are a lot of fun," she said.

Simple objects can be printed in as little as 10 minutes. More complex items can take hours, days or weeks, especially if they require parts to be individually printed and then assembled, Myers said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Once cooled, objects can be painted.

Library employees are being trained how to use the machines. A policy for patrons is set to be approved by the library board Monday night, too.

Among the proposed rules:

• Only Vernon Area cardholders can request printing time.

• No patrons will be allowed to handle the printers.

• Patrons will be limited to one printing job per month, and individual printing sessions are limited to two hours each.

• Plans for objects will be reviewed by staff before printing, and any objects that violate the law or library polices may be rejected.

Classes will be offered this winter for patrons who want to learn how to use the printers.

Vernon Area's smaller printer cost $1,925 and the larger one cost $3,575. Funding came from a large, private donation the library received last year and is spending on educational materials, Savage said.

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