This isn’t your parents’ library anymore. The newly renovated downtown Kitchener Central Library features a brand new Digital Media Lab, introducing cutting-edge hardware and software that is designed to give people hands-on experience with technology.
The most important – and certainly the most popular – piece of equipment the library has obtained is a 3D printer. Dale Dyce, Coordinator of Marketing and Communications at KPL, says that the reaction to the lab has been overwhelmingly positive.
“3D printers have proven to be a very popular piece of technology in recent years, so a 3D printer was top on our list of items to get for our new Digital Media Lab. Devices like 3D printers also help support literacy development, which in today’s digital age, increasingly includes technology,” says Dyce.
The printer they acquired is a Makerbot 5th Generation Replicator, which uses an extrusion method of printing. This means that an extruder nozzle lays down a hot micro-thin layer of non-toxic biodegradable PLA plastic, which immediately hardens and forms the base for the next layer. These layers are tiny cross-sections of the total object, taking shape as the layers are added from the bottom up.
The library has four different software programs that can be used to create objects for printing, all varying in degree of design complexity. Some involve using primitive shapes (sphere, cube, etc.) that can be built and modified to create an object, and some start with a piece of virtual material that can be sculpted into a creation.
“There has been a lot of simple ‘trinkets’ being printed, usually by the kids who try it,” said Easton Page, an assistant at the Digital Media Lab. “Some people have even used our 3D printer to replicate broken parts of different things where replacements are hard to get. Really, your imagination is the only limit in terms of what can be done.”
While imagination might be the only design limitation, a one inch cube with 10 per cent fill (90 per cent hollow walls) can take about half an hour to print. Printing something complex like a new bike helmet is, basically, out of the question.
The entire Digital Media Lab is available to anyone with a KPL library card, and knowledgeable staff are on-hand for any questions or assistance.