3D printers helping to change the local consumer landscape at one local library

WETM Special Reports

A resident physician spends his time at a laboratory to help him with medical practice and research. It does not deal with chemicals or petri dishes.

That laboratory, tucked away at the Steele Memorial Library in Elmira, has a special kind of technology that Ryan McAtee, the resident-physician, uses– 3D printers.

“Printing it here, I believe was about 80 cents a piece,” McAtee, a resident-physician at Arnot Ogden Medical Center, said.

He talked about a plastic model of a human larynx, real-size, that he used for medical training.  He printed five of the models on the lab’s 3D printers as he said each one cost 80 cents, but compared to how much?

“I would estimate that they would be no less than $50 a piece from an authorized medical store,” McAtee said. :It’s interesting. There are models available you can buy. They’re prohibitively expensive like anything in medicine.”

Some models we found cost between $200 and $500. McAtee said he was surprised to find the 3D printers locally at the library.

“I’ve been here for six years and I didn’t know about it,” He said. “I was shocked to find out it was this close and this convenient.”

That kind of reaction does not surprise the lab’s technician, John Van Oterloo.

“The most common reaction is ‘wow, I didn’t know this was in the library,'” Van Oterloo said. “‘I’ve been coming here for years and I can’t believe this amazing thing exists in the library’ and they come back.”

McAtee was one of those who came back again, and again. 

“It’s everybody’s lab so people can print out their own action figure, they can print replacement parts,” Van Otterloo said. “If you can think of it, if you can design it, you can print.”

The 3D printers are like printing from an office printer. Instead these printers need blueprints. 

Those blueprints can be found on certain 3D printing websites. Anyone can download the blueprints, feed it to the printer and the object starts printing in front of you. 

Van Otterloo said the lab will not 3D print guns, gun pieces or any kinds of objects that could be conceived as a weapon. Controversy surrounded 3D printers over the ability of being able to print weapons and parts for weapons.

We decided to print something that is used at 18 News use quite often, microphone flags. Microphones flags, or simply “mic flags,” are those objects you see on a microphone with the station’s logo on it. 

At the same time, there was a family with their child on another day at the lab. The father was printing a dinosaur toy for their son. They had one already made that their son was playing with alongside his store-bought toy dinosaur.

As for the larynx models, McAtee said those are enough to train and prepare someone for a life-or-death moment.

“If they’re not able to breath, they’re choking on something, there’s been trauma to the face and we’re not able to get an airway in, in theory we could have to cut someone’s neck and put an airway directly through their neck,” McAtee said. “Humans very rarely want us to practice on them so the model makes it safe, easy way for us to do it in a controlled setting.”

He said he will continue to use the 3D printers. McAtee has another project in mind.

“This has gone so well that we’re thinking of doing a similar project with a chest tube simulator,” McAtee said. “(It’s) a similar surgical procedure that has to be done emergently and, again, very few volunteers for that.”

Going back to the mic flag, it took a total of eight hours to print and assemble. The sides of the mic flag were put together with super glue and foam was added to the inside.

“We modified the original mic flag design which was just a rectangular and added the 18 News logo, which makes it, I think, much better.” Van Otterloo said. “You can say you made it yourself which is worth something too.”

If you have an idea of something you would like to 3D print, you can visit the Makespace Lab at the Steele Memorial Library. They can help you out and see what options there are to print. They charge sevent cents per gram of plastic for your finished product. (You may recall one larynx model cost 80 cents).

The Makerspace Lab also has the ability to etch into metal and wood. They can help you with that too.

Other regional libraries with 3D printers include the Southeast Steuben County Library in Corning and Tompkins County Public Library in Ithaca. 

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