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Insight into the Limitless Potential of 3D Printing: An Interview with Walker Riley

3D printing is a technology that takes in digital information and puts out tangible information. There isn’t a single area of information science that isn’t somehow applicable to 3D printing, says alumnus and adjunct faculty member Walker Riley, who teaches a course titled, “Concepts and Practices of 3D Printing.” In an interview with Riley, he addressed several areas in which 3D printing would make an impact.

First, students would not only be offering a unique skillset to libraries, but this skillset would set them apart from others without the technical know-how. Riley explained that although libraries are increasingly adopting maker spaces, “they rarely commit to hiring tech specialists to maintain those spaces. This is where the skills developed in my class make our students stand out from the crowd of other potential librarians.”

Riley also noted that archives students have perhaps the most to gain. “Because the potential for 3D printing in the realm of an archive or a museum is seemingly limitless, 3D printing can be used, and is frequently used, for replicating fragile items in order to display the replica so as to remove the risk of damaging the original.” In addition to protecting original artifacts, 3D printing can expand researchers’ capabilities to experience an object without the added costs of travel, or having to rely on limitations of photographs. Riley explained that “3D scanning will likely soon be incorporated into the digitization capabilities of most archives, which would allow researchers from across the globe to print objects, rather than having to travel to see them, or rely solely on pictures and descriptions.”

Another benefit of 3D printing is its tremendous potential to aid in preservation and reconstruction. “You can design and print a missing piece from a broken artifact, or print an approximation of what that artifact looked like whole. You can design carrying cases and stands that perfectly conform to artifacts, and at a tiny fraction of what it would cost to have such things made from commercial sources.” Riley even worked with Senior Lecturer Karen Pavelka and a few of her contacts in taking pieces of a shattered vase and reconstructing them digitally to figure out where all of the pieces went. They were also able to print the missing pieces.

He explained that 3D printing was a bit like the Wild West. “There is little to no regulation on what your printer can print, and because 3D printing has such a solid foundation in open-source technology, implementing regulations is going to be difficult. That said, regulations will come about eventually.” Riley believes that with its growing popularity, 3D printing services are likely to become as expected of libraries as printing paper is today.

As an iSchool student, Walker Riley specialized in cyber security and intellectual property. He is now an information systems manager for EPatientFinder, an online platform that connects physicians with their patients and provides information and treatment options.