By Amanda Castro-Crist
The items laying across the top of the desk in the Texas Tech University Libraries Makerspace have one thing in common. The bracelets, a chess set, scale models of buildings and two small double-Ts were all printed or created using 3-D technology in the new Makerspace area in the library.
The technology includes 3-D printers and scanners and was launched in September. There are also 3Doodler pens, which use heated plastic to “draw” 3-D objects, and plans to install a 3-D carver that can create objects out of other materials like metal and wood.
The equipment was purchased through grant and donation funds and all of the technology is free to use this semester by anyone within the Texas Tech community.
“Lots of colleges and departments already have these capabilities, but they’re reserved for the students in those departments,” Library Dean Bella Gerlich said. “There was no place where anyone on campus could come to try that equipment and collaborate across departments.”
Two PolyPrinter 229 printers and one larger PolyPrinter 508 printer are available for printing projects in red, black or white, the most requested colors when printing a 3-D project. The larger printer prints on an area that is about double the width of the smaller printers.
Makerspace Librarian Ryan Cassidy said projects are printed from a queue based on when the requests are received and can take several hours, depending on the size and complexity of the project.
“It’s definitely not something that you can just quickly do on your way to class,” Cassidy said.
Creators can email design files to the Makerspace, but Cassidy said stopping by the space and using the software on the computers there can help the creators avoid sizing mistakes.
“[Students] can make the modifications they need to while I’m here or a student is here or they can just experiment on their own,” Cassidy said. “You can’t really do that if you just email it.”
Senior history major Erin Calvert said because the machines print in metric units instead of imperial, projects sometimes end up much smaller than expected, holding up a tiny foot skeleton that should have been a to-scale model.
“Since we kind of know what the problems are for these sizes, we know what to look for,” Calvert, one of three student workers in the Makerspace, said. “If you email us, we ask that you include the size, too, so there’s no misunderstanding if the file does come out to be the wrong size.”
Makerspace users can also scan existing items to create scale models or designs to print replacement parts.
Cassidy said the space includes a desktop scanner for smaller items and a structure scanner that can be connected to an iPad and used to scan large objects, entire rooms and even people.
Gerlich and Cassidy said future plans for the space include expansion into the open space of the library, the installation of new machines and an additional area that allows students to obtain guidance from entrepreneurial experts.
For now, they are focused on getting the word out to students, faculty and staff who are interested in learning how to use the software and machines in the Makerspace to take an idea or drawing and make it into something that is three-dimensional.
“For people who have not had the chance to use that kind of equipment before, I hope that they’ll learn something new and it will give them an opportunity to work with other people and solve some problems,” Gerlich said. “Just have fun, explore it. Don’t be afraid to try it.”
Cassidy said projects are not limited to course assignments and students should take advantage of the Makerspace now, while there are not many restrictions or cost to creators. Calvert said she expects more students will begin accessing the Makerspace once word gets out about its existence.
“Why stop imagination at 2-D works?” Calvert said. “If you have something that you want to build and you’re just limited in supplies, money or time, you can always come here and ask us to help and we’d definitely be happy to help.”