McMaster staff and students can now print anything from a Pokemon figurine to a petroleum molecule. Thanks to an endowment from the Student Life Enhancement Fund, the Lyons New Media Centre now owns a 3D printer.
According to Rhonda Moore, manager of the LNMC, this is not the first 3D printer on the McMaster campus; however it is the first one available for any student or staff member to use.
“Since it was funded through the SLEF,” Moore says, “it is free…until we use up all of the filament, which we are unlikely to run out of for a few years.”
It is unclear what the cost of a print job will be once this period of free use ends.
There are two options for printing files. Staff and students can create their own virtual “pattern” using Blender, a type of 3D software available in the media centre, or they can download a premade file from an online catalog. Moore says any files downloaded from an online collection such as Thingiverse are not considered to have violated any copyright laws since the files were publicly shared online for others to use.
Moore also shared the two main issues the media centre has encountered since the 3D printer opened. Some submitted files have been too big for the printer and staff have had to use 3D software to scale them down.
“We’ve also noticed that people aren’t aware of how long it takes to do a print job,” Moore said. “So something that looks fairly small can still take in excess of several hours to print.”
According to the LNMC website, print jobs over six hours will require special evaluation to determine whether they can be printed.
A complete walkthrough of the printing process is available on the McMaster library website, along with information about the filament colour, which will change on a monthly basis.
“So far people have been sending fun little experiments,” Moore said. Fortunately the Lyons staff have not had to contend with people wanting to print objects deemed inappropriate.
“We do have limitations… basically anything that is a weapon, looks like a weapon, or is part of a weapon we will not print.” Moore and the LNMC staff are firm about this policy.
Moore says that every file submitted to the media centre is reviewed by staff, and the printer itself is constantly monitored.
“If there’s something that we think is inappropriate, we email the person and tell them that,” she said.
The buzz around the new 3D printer isn’t going to die down any time soon, and while the project is still in a trial-and-error phase, nothing beats a free Darth Vader pen holder.