Patrons learning to use 3D printer at South Regional Library

It’s playtime this summer at the South Regional Library, where technology is beating out books as patrons learn how to use 3-D printers to turn their visions into plastic reality.

The classes, which began early June, are a step to update the library’s course offerings, said Amy Wander, class organizer and library employee.

“We’ve had computer classes at the public library for years, and we really wanted to bring that technology forward a little bit,” she said. “We wanted to get to the newer technology, which would be creating in and printing 3-D.”

Wander said she got the idea for the classes after attending a librarians’ conference, where she tested out a 3-D printer. The library acquired a MakerBot Replicator, and they’ve been playing with it ever since.

“Three-D printing is in its infancy,” library systems administrator Adam Melancon said. “It really feels like it’s the Apple 2 or Apple 1. There’s no doubt you’ll be able to go down to Office Depot and get one of these for a couple hundred bucks in a few years.”

The class began with a quick tutorial on TinkerCAD, a 3-D modeling program that allows users to work out their designs on the computer.

The students were tasked with creating a pendant to print out and wear.

Once the 3-D model is completed through TinkerCAD, it is saved to a flash drive and inserted into the printer. The modeling program “slices” the models into paper-thin sections and then sets a path for the printer head to follow.

The plastic is fed through the printer head to an extruder, which melts the plastic. Applying the melted plastic layer by layer, the printer head reaches temperatures of more than 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Think of it as Weed Eater wire going through a very intelligent hot glue gun,” Melancon said. “It’s exactly what it is. You have the wire, you have the hot end and it gives you your printout.”

The printing process can take anywhere from eight minutes to 15 hours, depending on the complexity of the model.

All in all, Wander said, the classes have been a hit.

“People are just really thrilled with it,” Wander said. “In the summer, because we have a lot of kids coming through the library, we’ve had a lot of kids come through the maker space. I’ll give them a survey at the end of each course, and they love it.

“I’ll ask them what could we change, and they’re like, ‘Nothing! It’s great!’ ”

And the adults agreed.

“It’s cool,” said Charles Womack, one of the students in the adult class. “I know they’re coming down in price, and eventually being able to print more durable parts for things would be really cool to get into.”

“I’ve worked with computers for most of my life,” Womack said. “I’ve worked with a lot of 3-D modeling programs when I didn’t have any games to play, but this is the first time I’ve played with this particular website.”

His wife, Jennifer Womack, was on the other side of the spectrum of experience.

“I used a little bit of AutoCAD about 10 years ago,” she said. “But this is really my first playing with it and not doing work.”

The adult classes take place at 1 p.m. every Wednesday in July and are followed by an open lab for all ages Thursdays at the same time. The 3-D printing classes this summer come as the library is expanding its technology offerings, with plans for classes in photo manipulation, video game design and electronics. For information, visit lafayettepubliclibrary.org.