Reasons to Love Toronto 2014: #17. Because the Library is a High-Tech Manufacturing Hub
Everyone from Barack Obama to Dita Von Teese claims that 3-D printers will upend the way we manufacture just about everything. The Toronto Public Library apparently agrees. This year, it installed machines at the Fort York branch and the Ref, with more to come next winter at the Scarborough Civic Centre branch. Now, if you have a library card, some pocket change (the printers cost five cents a minute to use) and a speck of imagination, you can quickly design and produce almost anything you want. The only limitations: the object must be printable in less than two hours (which is more than enough time to make an iPhone case or an action figure), and it can’t be overtly violent or sexual. So no dildos and no guns, although a U of T student recently printed all the components to make a flying mini-drone (which is okay, because it’s more or less a model airplane).
A 3-D printer has nothing in common with the typical inkjet. The ones used by the TPL cost around $2,400 each, and are about the size and shape of a microwave oven. A small, roving nozzle melds together layer after layer of material—red, green, blue or white biodegradable plastic in the case of the library, but it could just as easily be metal, porcelain, even foodstuffs like pizza dough—into the desired shape. 3-D models can either be downloaded for free from websites like thingiverse.com or programmed from scratch. The TPL offers a sophisticated software called Sculptris (you basically just push and pull a digital playdough into a form), and there are frequent tutorials and on-site technicians to help beginners. Free, 45-minute certification classes are also mandatory for anyone who wants to use the printers. As of a few months ago, 600 people had already been certified. Many are tech-curious kids who just want to personalize key chains and earrings, but there have also been young industrial designers and entrepreneurs—an aspiring filmmaker in need of props, a game board developer—who need a cheap place to prototype what they hope will be the next big thing.