New Printing Afoot

The Auckland Libraries Preservation Unit has been testing a new form of printing… The word “print” in our world usually refers to ink on paper, however, we recently came across a problem that required us to think outside the square… and consider… the cube!

A shift from working with 2D prints, to the possibilities of 3D printing was prompted by another development – LED lighting in our upright cabinets. These cabinets have been something of a bain for us in the Preservation Unit. The complexities (impossibilities) of lighting them plague us in the setup of every show; not only to they present a challenge in lighting for optimal viewing (without shadows and all items lit), but all of our work goes out the door when a viewer looks into the case! The position of the overhead lighting is such that it does a better job of illuminating the back of peoples’ heads in this case.

While this is not the fault of the lighting, nor the cases, nor of those setting up lighting, the effect has always been a very frustrating process of shuffling and nudging lights to no avail. On top of these issues is a greater one: the preventive care of our items. Trying to light multiple items, each on multiple shelves, has been a going concern as the cumulative effect of light on these items will result in fading and degradation of the books.

Enter LED lights: LEDs emit very little heat, are free of harmful UV, and are already widely used in shop fittings – effectively shelves such as ours. After an initial investigation, and testing period, we confirmed that the lights would emit a negligible amount of heat in the cabinets, and would be dimmable to the degree we require. There was however, one more hurdle: we intended to affix the lights to each shelf with adhesive, but realised that, since we regularly move the shelves up and down to accommodate book sizes, there was considerable potential for damage to the lights every time we did so.

The solution came in the form of an attachment, designed in a 3D design program, and printed in ABS plastic. The design (after a few iterations) firmly holds the aluminium sleeve for the lights, and snugly slides over the shelf. Most importantly, the ABS plastic (Acrylonitrile-Butediene-Styrene) is deemed safe for heritage collections, so we can rest easy with it in close proximity to the collection.

Design View of the Object to be Printed

The final design: the lower-mid area is a hole and channel for the wiring – unable to be seen when pushed to the frame of the case.

The results speak for themselves – the case contents are well lit with light evenly spread, within the range of acceptable lux levels, and most satisfyingly, there is absolutely no shadow when viewed! As a project we’ve often said we “should” do, the realisation has been an enjoyable journey, and I’m looking forward to how we can utilise LED and 3D printing in the future.

The position and size of the prints allows the books to be shown off to their best, while still at appropriate lux levels.

The position and size of the prints allows the books to be shown off to their best, while still at appropriate lux levels.

The even light still feels like magic to me! I expect to see shadows all over the objects whenever I step close.

The even light still feels like magic to me! I expect to see shadows all over the objects whenever I step close.

3D printed, the plastic object is custom made to hold an aluminium sleeve with LED lights

3D printed, the plastic object is custom made to hold an aluminium sleeve with LED lights

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