Library Offers Glimpse of Futuristic Learning


BJ Laudermilk, Staff Writer

As technology continues to improve, college students now have more tools at their disposal to help them learn and grow. For students of Texas A&M University-Commerce, Gee Library offers students the ability to use a 3D printer.

3D printing has been an option in the library since last fall, but only on a trial basis. However, with the response to it being so positive, the library purchased their own 3D printer in August. The version bought, the PolyPrinter 229, can be purchased by anybody should they have an extra $2,895. On-site service and the owner’s kit cost extra, run the total easily up to over $3,600.

Tina Freeman, Library Assistant II – Technology Specialist, said that “any faculty, staff, or currently enrolled student [at A&M-Commerce]” can inquire about having a file printed.

“You can create an .stl file, or download one free from the Internet, and request for it to be printed,” she said. “The file will then be sliced and a G-code file created, which will also determine the cost of the item.”

From there you can pick the color and pay for the item and wait for it to be printed, as the item is placed on the 3D printing schedule. An email is then sent when the item is ready to be picked up.

The ability to use a 3D printer can be beneficial to students and teachers alike, whether it be for personal reasons or useful in the classroom environment.

“We have had faculty members create and print models for their classrooms, and even students have printed things such as dissection models of frogs and anatomy models,” she said.

The process of creating something with the 3D printer starts with making a virtual design of the object you want to create.

“It turns a whole object into thousands of tiny little slices, then makes it from the bottom-up, slice by slice,” Freeman said. “Those tiny layers then stick together to form a solid object.”

Each layer can be very complex. It can even create moving parts like hinges and wheels as part of the same object.

“Our 3D printer makes a 3-dimensional object by extruding a stream of heated or melted ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) material, which is carefully positioned layer upon layer, working from the bottom up on a heated bed set at 110 degrees,” she said.

G-code is a numerical control computer language used by the 3D Polyprinter, telling it how to move. Without it, there would be no way for the computer to communicate where to deposit the filament during the fabrication process.

“Once the G-code is created it can be sent to the 3D printer, providing a blueprint as to what its next several thousand moves will consist of,” Freeman said. “These steps all add up to the complete 3D printed physical object, created and personalized by students, faculty and staff.”

There are stipulations to using the 3D printer though. The printer has a 220mm limit, which means it can only print up to an 8 inch cube. No weapons such as guns or knives are allowed to be printed according to library policy.

The addition of the 3D printer has revolutionized the way students will be able to learn and study in the future in many different fields.

“It’s a great way for students to learn the principals of design,” she said. “Students pursuing a degree in the fields of education, architecture, fine arts, or even biomedicine can benefit from this state-of-the-art technology.”