Tag Archives: 3Dprinting

3D Printers for Libraries, 2017 Edition

Back in 2014, I wrote a Library Technology Report for ALA entitled 3D Printers for Libraries (Creative Commons licensed version found can be found here). In the past 3 years, much has changed in the world of 3D printing: they exploded across libraryland, became cheaper and more useful, and the number of printer makers has grown like mad. So when ALA asked if I’d update the LTR for 2017, I said yes.

In it, I cover many of the changes in the 3D printing landscape, including the huge variety of new filaments and their properties. Tons of new printers, new types of control software that’s emerged since the last Report, and lots more that can help inform libraries and librarians about the possibilities for 3D printers in 2017.

I hope people find it useful and informative!

Libraries, 3D Printer management, and Octoprint

Way back in 2014 I wrote a Library Technology Report  called 3D Printers for Libraries, one of the first long form works that set out to explain 3D printing to librarians. It is licensed under a CC BY-NC license, and 2 years seems like plenty of time for me to avoid linking to a copy here on the blog, so if you’re interested, here’s a PDF copy of it for you.

Since then, the market for 3D printers has exploded, but there have emerged a few new leaders that weren’t as well established when I wrote the LTR. Since that report was released, my favorite printers and the ones that I recommend for libraries are the Lulzbot Mini and Lulzbot Taz 6…they are spectacular FDM printers, capable and easy to use. Even better, they are certified Open Hardware and use Open Source software top to bottom, which means that they are easily repaired and have a myriad of options for printer management, slicing, and control.

One of those options is something that I’ve not seen recommended for libraries, but that I feel like they and others could get a huge amount of mileage from. Octoprint is an open source control program for 3D printers that runs on a variety of hardware (there are install instructions for Windows, OS X, and Linux) but by far the most interesting and useful method for using it is via the OctoPi project that uses a Raspberry Pi as a host for the Octoprint system and all its requirements. You can download pre-built images for a Raspberry Pi, flash an SD card, boot up the Pi, and have a robust and flexible management system for your 3D printer ready to go.
Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 11.23.48 PMWhat does Octoprint do? For compatible printers (which includes nearly any that use the industry standard gcode instructions to print), Octoprint can control every aspect of the printer, including:

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  • Print queuing
  • Slicing
  • Physical control (movement of printhead, temperature, etc)
  • Gcode previewing, including printhead movement
  • Start, stop, and pause prints
  • Full plugin architecture that allows for everything from cost estimation and filament usage, printer usage statistics, and integration with a variety of messaging apps (get Slack notifications when a print is completed, for example)
  • Native support for video streaming via an attached webcam, including the ability to use the same camera for time lapses of your prints

3D printing MtF Case Wood

The best part? All of the above take place in a web browser. No client software needed, no keeping up with installs of Cura or other printer-specific software. Suddenly you can start a print or monitor your printer from anywhere on your network, or from anywhere in the world if you forward the appropriate port externally. I recently uploaded and started a new print on the printer in my basement while in a different hemisphere…

You can preset the available plastic types and quality settings through printing profiles for slicing of uploaded STL files. For my part, since my primary printer is a Lulzbot Mini, I just downloaded the profiles directly from the manufacturer and uploaded them to Octoprint, and can now upload any STL that I find directly to my printer, from anywhere I am in the world.

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For most libraries, just the ease of statistics and usage tracking would be enough to make Octoprint useful enough to try out.

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But add in the ability to control your printer(s) from any computer, to video stream the printing and watch for errors remotely, to be alerted when a print completes…it’s just a much more robust way of managing your 3D printing. And for the cost of a Raspberry Pi and maybe an hour of setup, you can be up and running.

This isn’t to say that Octoprint solves all 3D printing problems. It’s largest shortcoming in my opinion is its lack of plating tools…if you have an STL, you are stuck with just printing that single STL with Octoprint. If you need to plate several STL files together on a single print plate, you would have to do that in Cura or other program (you could even do it in Tinkercad if you wanted to stay in-browser I suppose) and then either save the collection as an STL or go ahead and slice it to gcode and upload the gcode directly to Octoprint. It is technically possible for a single install and Raspberry Pi to control more than one 3D printer, but it isn’t built in to the system and is something I’d only recommend to technical users. RPi’s aren’t expensive, and having one per printer isn’t the end of the world, but hopefully over time the OctoPi setup will evolve to handle multiple printers natively.

I’ve been using the latest version of Octoprint for months now, and it’s simplified so much of my work with my 3D printer. If you are responsible for running the makerspace or 3d printer service in your library, check out Octoprint. I’m guessing it will make your life easier.

I’m considering putting together a workshop on how to install and use Octoprint with your 3D printer…would anyone be interested in such a training? If so, leave me a comment and let me know, I’ll see if I can find a venue and do it sometime this winter.

Carbon3D Printer Analysis

This morning, a new 3D printing company (Carbon3D) won the marketing lottery, by appearing in a story in the Washington Post, and then being featured pretty much everywhere possible online. They were tweeted hundreds of times.

While I trust that they really are doing something different, the overall technology isn’t new…it is a variation on stereolithography,  which predates fused deposition modeling (what most library 3d printers are using) as a technology. It’s not even the first consumer level stereolithographic printer! The Form 1 (http://formlabs.com/products/form-1-plus/) has been out for a couple of years now, and at least one library (Darien) has one in operation.

In order to figure out what it was that they were doing differently, I had to read their paper that was published yesterday in Science. Unsurprisingly, WaPo got a lot of the tech wrong, or at the very least wrote it in such a way that it is very confused. Take this section:

“To create an object, CLIP projects specific bursts of light and oxygen. Light hardens the resin, and oxygen keeps it from hardening. By controlling light and oxygen exposure in tandem, intricate shapes and latices can be made in one piece instead of the many layers of material that usually make up a 3D printed object.”

“Bursts of oxygen”? You can’t “project” oxygen into a liquid like you can a laser. And “instead of the many layers” is also raising red flags. There may not be distinct layers in the same way as FDM printing, but there must be some form of progressive building.

What is actually going on is that they are, indeed, using a UV projector to selectively harden a photosensitive resin. What is different about their approach is that they are projecting through a membrane that is selectively oxygen permeable, which allows for a “dead zone” of resin that can’t harden (due to the oxygen level), above which the UV sensitivity kicks in and the resin hardens. They call this process “continuous liquid interface production technology” or CLIP.

The paper doesn’t say it outright, but knowing the technology, I’m guessing that their hardening process is a continuous build. Rather than a laser-based traditional resin printer, they are using a projector, which I can imagine is more like a video, continuously painting the surface to be hardened. It would be more like pulling sugar, where the liquid becomes solid as you lengthen it, and there would be no layers per se, but more of a crystalline lattice. This would account for the smoothness of the prints. It is also, to be fair, a complete guess on my part.

This change in the traditional stereolithography process apparently gives them a huge increase in speed, which is the key differentiator here. They appear to be able to print objects very, very fast. It also looks like they have the cash to research and develop it commercially, with both Silver Lake and Sequoia as backers.

So what does this mean for libraries? Honestly, not much for the moment. This particular technology could be very inexpensive to make…or, given the proprietary nature of the membrane and resin, it could be ridiculously expensive. The company hasn’t announced any pricing or even availability, so we really have no idea when it might be available. When it is, I’ll revisit and see what I think for libraries. For now, this is interesting, but just a news item.

CES 2015 Press Day

The day before the actual conference exhibits and such open at CES is Press Day. Effectively, it’s a day full of large press conferences that require standing in line to hear the big announcements from all the major players at CES: Samsung, HTC, Panasonic, and such. The evening of Press Day, however, has one of the better press events that happens at the same time as CES every year, Pepcom’s Digital Experience. This report is a wrap up of what I saw at press day, which includes new 3D printers from Ultimaker (one of my favorite 3D printer manufacturers, along with Lulzbot and SeeMeCNC, both of whom I’ll report on as part of tomorrow’s coverage), a handful of drones, and an interesting robotics platform that I think could be useful for library programming with kids and young adults.

I apologize for the audio quality, especially during the first part of the video. I’m not sure exactly what happened other than my microphone really didn’t like some of the ambient sounds in the room. I promise, it gets better.

CES 2015 coverage sponsored by Springshare. If your library needs a solution for desk scheduling, research guides, or room booking, check out their LibApp platform

Mineways – 3D printing from Minecraft

Fire and IceMineways is a program that translates Minecraft models into object files that can be printed on 3D printers, resulting in you being able to hold in your hand something that you designed in a game. This isn’t the first time this sort of thing has been available…one of the very first instances of 3D printing that I reported on (way back in 2006!) was the ability to print your character from Second Life. In 2007 I had a chance to hold my first 3D printed object that I designed…my Mii from my Nintendo Wii system.

So printing from games isn’t new, but the popularity of Minecraft and the free-form creativity of it is certain to lead to some really interesting stuff. How can you incorporate this into what you offer to patrons?

3D printing video for Top Tech Trends

I was asked by the LITA Top Tech Trends committee to help them test out a new idea for TTT…having a Trendster talk about a single tech trend on video, and throwing it up on YouTube. I agreed, and the result (after a little editing on my part) came out really well. Take a look:

If this is the sort of thing you’d like to see more of from LITA, please…leave a comment! Let us know what you think.