This is an excerpt from an article by Chad Sansing posted on SLJ.com
If you’ve ever seen a 3-D printer at work, you know how mesmerizing it can be. LEDs flicker to life, fans and motors spin up to speed, and then, the print head (or nozzle) begins its dance back and forth along X- and Y-axis belt drives (and up and down the Z-axis), extruding its “make” into being onto the print plate. Equal parts robot, building blocks, and hot glue gun, 3-D printing is a technology that’s making its way into schools and libraries.
The printers work like this: a print head draws plastic filament from a large reel, heats the filament, and then extrudes it onto a build plate to print in 3-D. The print head (and sometimes the build plate) move on X, Y, and Z axes following instructions from design files uploaded to the printer via USB cable or SD card. Once the heated filament hits the build plate, it cools quickly, so the print head can dash back and forth across cooled portions of the print and continue its additive work, building up to the top of the design. Of course, dash is a relative term. Complex builds take hours, if not days (add to that the design time). Nevertheless, 3-D printing seems magical, and the feeling of wonder we get from watching a printer at work is a strong hook.
After we get a handle on how the printers work, what’s next? What is possible with 3-D printing in schools and libraries? And is it possible that the answer is “nothing much”?