Building and Learning at Baldwin Library Idea Lab

Building and Learning at Baldwin Library Idea Lab

(Drew Saunders, Dec. 15 2017)

Birmingham, MI – You can build just about anything, in theory, with a 3D printer. The technology aiming to revolutionize the way everything is made might still be in its infancy, but it is thriving in Baldwin Library’s Idea Lab.

“It’s one of those places where it’s tough to leave every day,” Jeff Jimison, the librarian who runs the lab, told the Oakland County Times.

The Idea Lab will be hosting its “Drop-in to Create an Ornament or Pop-up Greeting Card” event Saturday December 16, from 10 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

The lab’s regular hours will be 9:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 12:00 noon to 5:00 p.m. on Sundays.

The glass room right off the library’s main circulation desk opened in September, and features two 3D printers, a laser cutter and decorations made by Jimison and past users. There is a ceramic glass bowl with markings inside that was made with the cutter by an artist. There are also cardboard Christmas decorations made with the 3D printers; including a TIE fighter and an X wing.

As was explained in a 2014 video by Mashable, 3D printers do not make things in a traditional way of manufacturing, where you take apart different types of material, modify them and assemble them together to make a product. Instead, 3d Printers use a technique called Additive Manufacturing, where you design your product in a computer model and the machine aranges atoms in layers, one after the other, where it quickly cools into shape until you get a completed product.

This extremely efficient, cost effective and precise method of manufacturing is a slow process and very new. Very often projects will have to be loaded into the Idea Lab’s 3D printers in the afternoon and it will have to be left to work overnight, and be picked up in the morning.

But it is getting faster and better all the time. You can make everything from very simple toys and replacement parts, to food, replacement body parts and theoretically anything else that has matter.

“The printers use all types of plastic filament, including PLA, ABS, PETG and others. It also prints using composite filaments such as those containing carbon fiber, wood, or metal particles suspended in a plastic binder,” Jimison said.

Next to the printers was a dinosaur skull made out of one of the types of plastic, PLA – or Polylactic Acid – a filament used by 3D printers to create shapes. This is a renewable plastic, which will biodegrade much faster than traditional plastic.

The equipment the lab uses has been growing since it opened. The Quo Pro Duo, a large white box about the size of a mini fridge, has been in the lab since it opened in September.

The smaller PowerSpec lets you see the strand of PLA taken from what looks like a spool of white twine, through a device on a sliding, moving rack. The PLA is melted through a tube and placed at specific locations, following the blue printed created on a computer earlier.  

A third printer, capable of printing multiple types of material at once, will be appearing in the lab “in a couple of months” Jimison said. “So that’s very exciting.”

Anyone can use the lab. The cover charge for using the equipment is one dollar, plus fifteen cents per gram of material used. They will round up if the material comes to over half a gram and round down if it is under half a gram.

The library itself has invested $15 thousand in the Idea Lab, according to Director Doug Koschik. The Idea Lab had been in the works for five years before the renovation that finished last summer.

“We have been pleased,” Koschik said. “It is a new operation so we’re still learning, but the response from the public has been excellent.”

Learn more about the Baldwin Library at

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