The Maker Lab at San Diego Central Library, filled with 3D printers available for public use, will soon expand due to its overwhelming popularity.
"It's amazing, it's rad!” said Donny Monsell, a San Diego college student who spent a recent afternoon printing plastic embryo heart tubes. He has been using the printers to make six 3D models for his Embryology class. “I was here for three hours yesterday and it was awesome.”
The printers, located on the eighth floor, are so popular with patrons like Monsell that the library plans to move the lab in November to the third floor. There, visitors will have four times as much space to work. In addition to the move, the lab will welcome three more 3D printers as well as a sewing machine, a vinyl cutter, a milling machine to create circuit boards and a laser cutter.
"I'm in shock, I would say, from the reactions people have coming here," said Uyen Tran, the Emerging Technologies Librarian who runs the lab, "It's been an amazing journey."
Tran said the lab started when the library opened two years ago as part of the Idea Lab, funded by a California State Library grant. Since then, several companies have donated additional printers and it has continued to grow.
Tran believes 3D printers are exactly the kind of shared community resource that should be made available in a modern library. Just like books were long ago, 3D printers are something that most people cannot afford to own themselves. The library's most expensive donated 3D printer costs about four thousands dollars.
The Maker Lab is staffed entirely by volunteers, under Tran's guidance. There are about forty volunteers, including Ruggero Scorcioni.
"I thought it would be a great idea for me to learn more and give back to the community," said Scorcioni, a former La Jolla neuroscientist who first visited the lab after he won an invention contest and used his winnings to start his own company called BrainYno.
Scorcioni has used the 3D printers in the Maker Lab to create the heating and cooling elements for his invention: a mattress pad called PolarSleep, to help people who wake up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat.
Library patrons can use the printers for two hours a day, and print up to one item for free each day. The machines are available on a first come, first serve basis or by appointment. The Maker Lab also offers free classes in 3D scanning and printing.
"It takes your ideas into something you can hold in your hands," said Clayton McIntyre, who teaches 3D printing classes at the library, "It forced me to have my imagination come through the computer."
McIntyre not only brings to the lab his experience doing 3D printing for a San Diego start-up called Cognionics. He also draws on the 3D printing knowledge he uses to create things for his five-year-old daughter, like customized pink dinosaurs.
Patrons have also used to printers at the library to make all sorts of things out of the corn-based PLA plastic filament. Small projects having included replacement parts for an aquarium and a dishwasher.
There have also been what Tran calls "life changing" projects. A sailing instructor made a 3D map of San Diego Bay for a student learning to sail in that area. A woman made a custom handlebar for a paraplegic man's specialized bicycle.
Patrick Henry High junior Ryan Beck uses the printers to create specialized parts for skateboards he builds, designed to go downhill as fast as 80 miles per hour.
"So many cool things have sprouted for me because of the 3D printing at the library," Beck said, who hopes to start his own custom skateboarding company. He already builds the custom boards for his friends, thanks to the help he found at the Maker Lab.
Entrepreneurs have found the Maker Lab, too. Larry Bischmann is launching a third generation golf company called Bloodline Golf in January. He said using the library's 3D printers to perfect his putter head designs was a much cheaper and faster process than if he would have build more traditional metal prototypes.
"3D printing is like Play-Doh was when we were kids," Bischmann said, "You make whatever you can dream up and come print it on the computer."