Future Reflections        Winter 2014        TECHNOLOGY

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Producing Tactile Materials
An Update

by Robert Jaquiss

Reprinted from Braille Monitor, Volume 56, No. 11, December 2013

From the Editor: A longtime Federationist, Robert Jaquiss is passionate about the value of tactile materials for blind students. Like a growing number of educators and parents, he believes that blind students should be taught and encouraged to use models and tactile graphics along with other adaptive tools. As a member of the NFB's Committee on Research and Development, he has followed developments in the field closely since 1993. Currently he serves as director of the recently announced 3D Tactile Graphics Division of the American Thermoform Corporation (ATC).

The 2Bot 3D printer.In the April 2012 issue of Braille Monitor, I wrote an article entitled "Advanced Technology for Producing Tactile Materials." The technologies I described are often referred to as 3D technologies. Products are improving and prices are dropping, developments that will have a major effect on the education of the blind. Now a teacher will be able to find an image using the Internet, download it, and produce a model for his/her students. Blind and low-vision students can more easily understand the concepts being taught and will be able to explore models of natural phenomena and cultural artifacts.

In this article, I will describe two new devices, the 2BOT and the MakerBot Replicator 2. It should be noted that both the 2BOT and Replicator 2 are most likely to be useful to sighted teachers and transcribers. The software requires the user to view an image on screen in order to produce it in a tactile form.

The 2BOT

The 2BOT is an easy-to-use, computer-controlled milling machine that connects to a PC through a USB cable. The machine uses blocks of foam measuring 12 by 13-3/4 inches and up to 2 inches thick. The foam blocks are inexpensive, ranging in price from four to twenty-eight dollars per piece, depending upon the type of foam.

To operate the 2BOT, the user removes a frame from the machine, installs a piece of foam in the frame, and inserts the frame again. The software is started, an image selected, parameters set, and the job begins. When the first side of the model is complete, the foam dust is vacuumed out. The frame is removed, flipped over, and inserted back into the 2BOT. The job then resumes, cutting the back side of the model. When the job is complete, the model is detached from the remains of the foam block. Depending on the size and complexity of the model, a job can take anywhere from twenty minutes to three hours.

The 2BOT sells for $5,995. A complete turnkey system, including a supply of foam and an industrial vacuum cleaner, sells for $6,595.

The MakerBot Replicator 2

The MakerBot Replicator 2 printer.The MakerBot Replicator 2 is a 3D printer that uses spools of ABS filament  (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene , a moldable polymer) to construct models by melting and then depositing drops of molten plastic under computer control. The Replicator 2 can create models that are impossible for a milling machine to produce. The build volume is in inches: 11.2 long, 6 wide, and 6.1 high.

Like the 2BOT, the Replicator 2 is easy to use and connects to a PC through a USB cable. The models are built in layers. Imagine building a loaf of bread standing on its end. The loaf could be built by stacking up the slices until the loaf is complete. The process is similar for the Replicator 2. The user starts the software, selects an image, sets parameters, and starts the job. When the job is complete, the model is removed from the Replicator, and any support material is removed. Support material is necessary when a model has an overhanging portion--for example, the head of an animal. The Replicator can deposit material either on its base plate or on previously deposited material. If a model of an animal is needed, support material is produced to hold up the animal's head. The Replicator 2 sells for $2,400.

American Thermoform Corporation (ATC) is proud to sell both of these products. You can learn more by visiting <www.3dtactilegraphics.com>. If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch with me. Here is my contact information.

Robert Jaquiss, Director
3D Tactile Graphics Division
American Thermoform Corporation
1758 Brackett Street
La Verne, CA 91750
(909) 593-6711, ext. 107


Jaquiss, Robert. (2012, April). Advanced Technology for Producing Tactile Materials. Braille Monitor, 55:4. <https://nfb.org/images/nfb/Publications/bm/bm12/ bm1204/bm120407.htm>

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