The Age of the Makers; 3D Printing in the Public Library of Cologne

Cologne’s first publicly accessible 3D printer can be found in the central library at the Neu-markt. Twice a day it is demonstrated how the printer works and people can print out 3D print files which they bring along. The price depends on the weight of the object produced by the printer.

The movement of makers – an initiative on the internet – is a movement of people who want to create things themselves. The 3D printer is an important tool, as it allows people other than professionals to be active in the area of design. It looks rather simple – the MakerBot Replicator 2 almost reminds of an empty beer crate, but it has a lot to offer. It can be used to make virtual digital designs created at the computer into analogue tangible objects: e.g. screws or a spare part for the lawn-mower which is not produced any longer. Or the users might want to print out replicas of themselves – not as photos but as little figures for their children’s dollhouses. For printing a key ring pendant the printer needs about 15 minutes, if the objects are bigger/more complex it can take several hours. The ‘ink’ consists of a plastic filament (1.8 mm in diameter), the material is plastic – a biocompatible, residue-free com-postable thermoplast called PLA. MakerBot Industries operates the online community Thingi-verse, where users can upload files, document their designs and work jointly on open source hardware. Here they can also find design patterns for download (www.thingiverse.com).
In the public library of Cologne a ‚makerspace’ is being developed, a space which invites people to be active. The printer is just the beginning, it is planned to offer (in the course of this year) the possibility to compose and make music on the iPad, to digitize records or create podcasts. In the late 1990s the public library of Cologne was a trendsetter with its Me-dienbibliothek (Media Library) in the then newly established Mediapark. Now a new space is being developed which takes up the basic idea of that time, but takes account of current de-velopments in the media and in society. The motto for the Cologne makerspace is discover-ing, learning, being creative. The emphasis is on making something together – the makers and facilitators are the users, often young people, who train adults.

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