Filaprint 3d printer brings new capability to library

Trent Ernst, Editor

If you’ve been to the library recently, you might have noticed a faint buzzing. That’s not the new LED lights. No, it’s a new 3D printer, donated to the library by Jody Mitchell of the local company Filaprint.

3D printing is an emerging technology that has the potential for incredible growth. “We are excited to partner with the local high school to ensure the next generation is properly equipped to leverage this innovation,” says Librarian and local tech genius Steve Tory. “Come by the library and take a look at the machine. You’ll hear it buzzing away quite often – producing handy creations, and inspiring imaginations of what it might produce next.”

The library will soon be releasing guidelines for 3D printing so the public can use it. These new guidelines are based on other libraries’ experiences with 3D printing. “We have a tech intern who can help people with technical issues. He’s been doing some research into guidelines from other libraries to see how different libraries bill. Some do it based on time, some do it on material. We’ll probably have guidelines similar to the Hamilton Library.”

But what is a 3D printer? A 3D printer is an additive process that uses a material, usually, but not always, plastic, to create solid 3D shapes. (Some people, for instance, have been experimenting with printing other substances, such as food.) That keychain? Could be 3D printed. Much of the memorabilia for the Geopark is 3D printed, and Filaprint specializes in printing 3D landscapes, from 3D topographic maps to highly detailed representations of specific areas.

3D printing has been available commercially for many years, but in the last few years has begun to be available for smaller companies and even home use.

The first time a job is printed, says Tory, it needs to go through a digital slicer. “There are size constraints, so we’ll see if it is even feasible. Then we’ll estimate size and cost. We have 13 colours of filaments. She (Mitchell) gave us a great selection along with the printer. We also need to make sure it’s not copyrighted or illegal.”

Digital Files can be downloaded from the Internet, or can be created in a 3D modeling program like the freely available SketchUp. “There are lots of models available on the Internet, like Thingiverse. We can download those files and print them off. Some good examples are phone stands and charging stands. The fun thing about those sites is you need to pay attention to the comments. There’s lots of models there that don’t print well. Scaling is a big issue. Things will print too big or too little.”

Mitchell, owner of Filaprint, says she wants kids to be challenged, to think outside the box. “It’s important that they have the chance to make their ideas come to life,” she says. “I’m hoping that the library can help facilitate the missing link between a child’s idea, and a 3D virtualization into a printed object. We are kind of tucked away here in TR, and I like to know that kids, including mine, have all the opportunities as a city kid plus the added value of living in Tumbler Ridge.”

Mitchell says that 3D printing is a can opener for imagination and innovation. “I think that Tumbler Ridge is full of really creative and inventive people. We kind of have to jimmy-rig things on a regular basis here, adding a 3D printer to the community is just another tool for everyone to use.”

The library will be using ‘bio-plastic’, or PLA, which is made from sugars and starches and does not exhibit the smells other plastics can, says Tory. “It is also bio-degradable, non-toxic, and recyclable.”

Mitchell says she was happy to be able to donate a printer and materials. “I had been wanting to for a long time. I just had to get to a certain turning point in business to pull it off. Tumbler Ridge had definitely helped me get to that turning point… it’s the least I can do. I really can’t wait to see some awesome re-inventions, and I am hoping everyone gets a chance to print what they would like at the library at a significantly reduced cost than having a business do it for them.”

While the 3D printer opens up the realm of the creative, Tory says there’s a lot of practical applications, too “People are always breaking the dials on their washing machine or dryer or stove. You can 3D print that. The plastic we’re printing is quite tough. There’s no reason that a dial we print won’t last for decades. Maybe you broke a clip on your car, and instead of replacing the whole part for hundreds of dollars, you can print out a piece. There’s a lot of practical applications. There’s a whole eco-friendly aspect, if you don’t have to replace your stove because you can print the part.”