3D printing at Dalhousie: From bone scans to fridge parts

The 3D printer drew a lot of attention when it first came to Dalhousie University three years ago. Now, it's getting down to business.

Baseballs, costumes pieces and figurines have all been printed at Dalhousie

Trade show attendees examine the MakerBot Replicator Mini 3D printer at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. (The Associated Press)

The 3D printer drew a lot of attention when it arrived at Dalhousie University three years ago. 

"People had sort of, kind of, heard of them, but they would just sit here and watch, just out of curiosity, and watch it print," said Marc Comeau, director of Library IT for Dalhousie Libraries.

"It's really neat to watch, but it can get a little boring," he added. 

Not surprisingly, this type of viewing has died down, but the 3D creations keep coming. Everything from bone scans and engineering projects, to costumes pieces and figurines, have been printed at Dalhousie. 

Comeau described the detail displayed in a printed baseball. 

"You can actually see the stitching itself on each of the seams. There's a couple of rough spots ... where the baseball had been scuffed up on the ground, and you can actually see those on the 3D printed model." 

3D printers work in layers. "The same way as a hot glue gun squeezes out the glue, this is squeezing out plastic," Comeau said. 

Dalhousie Libraries bought a MakerBot Replicator in 2012, and the Killam Library became the first library in Halifax to boast a 3D printer. Dalhousie now has at least one 3D printer in four of its five libraries. You can design products yourself, or use their 3D scanner to take a real-life object and create a blueprint. There's an online form to fill out with information about your 3D design. The library will print it off. There's even a variety of colours to choose from. 

"Someone had an assignment that ended up being printed in hot pink because it was the last thing that was being printed in the printer." 

Comeau is particularly fond of the more mundane designs, like a fridge piece that needed to be replaced, or the foot of a barbecue.  

"I like them because they really speak to what the printer is all about. In my mind the printer's about solving problems and dealing with unique situations," he said. 

Comeau's looking forward to what's still to come.  

"A lot of things that we used to throw away are going to become fixable and that's something that I'm really interested in seeing emerge and happen."

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