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Smithtown Library adds new dimension with 3-D printers

The Smithtown Library has installed 3-D printers in each of its four branches. The printers are available to patrons for a fee based on the size and detail of each project. On Tuesday Feb. 23, 2016, Newsday was invited to the Nesconset branch to see how the printer works. (Credit: James Carbone)

Donna Gabusi watched in amazement as a chainlink began to form in thin layers of black plastic.

Gabusi, 45, of Smithtown, had seen signs about 3-D printing at the Nesconset Branch of the Smithtown Library, but she had never seen a printer in action until this past week.

“It’s so cool,” she said. “It’s a 2-dimensional flat thing from the computer and zap! . . . You can hold it in your hand.”

The Smithtown Library last month unveiled 3-D printers for permanent use at each of its four branches.

The MakerBot Replicator forms an object when an extruder heats biodegradable plastic to 400 degrees and dispenses it, layer by layer, onto a tray. Projects can take as little as 15 minutes or up to several hours to print, depending on the size and intricacy of design.

Users can download pre-designed projects from files on the Internet at websites such as thingiverse.com, or create their own objects in the library via computer assisted design programs like Tinkercad.

Robert Lusak, the library director, said the printers offer unique pathways to learning about technology.

“We’re not just about books and DVDs anymore,” Lusak said. “The library does have to find ways of reinventing itself to stay relevant in society . . . This is our way of reaching out to new individuals who maybe wouldn’t have used the library in the past, by introducing these technologies.”

Jimmy Buckman, the library’s network administrator, said the printers have already been a draw. “Everyone can actually see how it works, and come and watch it,” he said.

The nonprofit Friends of the Smithtown Library purchased the printers, which cost about $2,400 each, said Buckman.

Printed items have ranged from a Tyrannosaurus rex skull and bracelet to a functioning ukulele. All items must meet the library’s 3-D printer policy, which prohibits objects deemed to be a threat to others or obscene.

Eric Shane, 34, of Nesconset, used a pre-made design to print a gift — a red phone stand in the shape of an octopus tentacle.

“It’s just as easy as printing a document on a page,” he said. “It’s actually a little overwhelming. The options are so infinite.”

The printers have been a hit at libraries across Long Island. Thirteen of Suffolk Cooperative Library System’s 56 member libraries have purchased 3-D printers, and at least eight of the 54 member libraries in the Nassau Library System have bought them, library officials said.

Daniel Harris, a sophomore at Hauppauge High School, was skeptical about whether he could print guards to prevent propellers on his drone from hitting walls. But he found a file with the dimensions for his model and was pleased with the results. The guards retail for about $30, said Harris. By printing his own, he paid $11 — or just $1 per printing hour.

“Being 15 years old, you don’t exactly have an endless wallet,” he said. “It’s really amazing how they’re modernizing, and making the library more teenager-friendly.”

3-D PRINTING AT SMITHTOWN LIBRARY

  • To request a project online, go to smithlib.org. Click on the “Adults” tab and select “3-D Printing” to complete a form.
  • The 3-D printer can print objects up to 9.9 inches long by 7.8 inches wide by 5.9 inches tall.
  • The cost is $0.25 per 15 minutes of print time, which covers supply expenses. Seven colors of plastic are available.

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