POMEROY — Chelsea Poole pressed a few buttons and white LEDs ignited theatrically inside the machine.
The assistant director of the Meigs County District Public Library pressed a few more, and unleashed the industrious whirring sounds of a printer, a sort of crunching and beeping familiar to all office workers.
Except “The Cube” is not printing documents — it’s printing objects.
“This three-dimensional printer builds things based off a digital template,” Poole said, in a process “very similar to manufacturing. A heating element melts plastic from cartridges, and the printer puts down layers.”
The complexity of the end product is limited only by the original design.
“More detail takes more time,” Poole said as she compared two recently printed toy cars. The first one, about the size of a Hot Wheels and with few details, “took about 20 minutes.”
The second, complete with a steering wheel, dashboard and more realistic frame, took “closer to two hours.”
The International Space Station made recent headlines when crew members used an on-board 3-D printer to manufacture a specialized wrench, which they then used during repairs.
The Pomeroy library’s device is somewhat less powerful than NASA’s, but operates on the same principles.
The aptly named “Cube” is around a cubic foot in size and only utilizes plastic for its printing.
“This model is $300 to $400 and not a highly advanced one, but the tech gets better and faster every day,” Poole said. “The VCR was $1,000 when it came out. Eventually, everyone had one or two in their home.”
Next to the Cube lay other demonstrations of the revolution soon to come.
“We have simple items displayed that we printed this week: A cookie cutter, custom Mason jar lids, toys,” Poole explained as the Cube continued printing, “but other machines have printed heart valves, prosthetics — and those are not things in the pipeline; those are already here.”
Many other machines are capable of working with metals or ceramics, and are getting ever faster and more precise to match the expanding number of designs.
“The template library we use has light switch covers, (prefabricated furniture) replacement parts, almost everything,” Poole said.
Instructions for the machines, called templates, are available on the internet in vast numbers. Most of the digital files are open-source, meaning they can be accessed and shared with few constraints.
“Anyone can search out and use a template, or design or customize one,” Poole said. That means if someone has the raw materials and an advanced enough machine, production is only a few button presses away.
“The Cube” is touring libraries in southern Ohio courtesy of the Southeast Regional Library System, a sort of trade association for libraries.
Kristi Eblin, director of the Meigs County District Public Library, is a member and attends the monthly SERLS meetings. Eblin jumped at the chance for Meigs to be a stop on the printer’s tour.
“(SERLS) make bigger purchases that small libraries could not make otherwise and it lets us show people the technology,” Poole said.
The Cube resides at the Pomeroy library through August, and the staff will happily make demonstrations for visitors.
“Come by, and if it is not already going, we will start it up,” one staffer said.
The rapidly evolving technology fits well with the library system’s mission to democratize knowledge. Libraries already offer basic resources like internet access or a copy machine, and Meigs libraries are preparing for a day when 3-D printing is a common necessity.
The database of free online templates matches the spirit of a library, as well. Users often share knowledge by leaving notes on the files.
Pomeroy library staff looking at designs for Halloween decorations were warned by one annotation: “Beware, the pumpkin explodes.”
According to Poole, “Following some discussion …we skipped that one.”