Braille Monitor                                               December 2013

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Producing Tactile Materials, an Update

by Robert Jaquiss

From the Editor: Robert Jaquiss is a longtime member of the Federation who has lived in several states and has participated actively in each of them in our National Federation of the Blind affiliates. He is passionate about the need for tactile materials and shares the views of many who have recently written for this magazine that learning to use tactile graphics should be a part of any young student’s experience as he or she matriculates through school. As a member of the Committee for Research and Development, Robert has been following and actively encouraging developments in this field since 1993. He is now a director of the recently announced 3D Tactile Graphics Division of the American Thermoform Corporation (ATC). ATC is selling the equipment described in the following article. Here is what he says:

The 2BOTIn the April 2012 issue of the Braille Monitor I wrote an article entitled “Technology for Producing Tactile Materials.” The technologies described are often referred to as 3D technologies. Products are improving and prices are decreasing—developments that will have a major effect on the education of the blind. Now a teacher can 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 feel models of cultural artifacts.

I will describe two devices: the 2BOT and the MakerBot Replicator 2. It should be noted that both the 2BOT and Replicator 2 are most likely to be used by sighted teachers and transcribers. The software requires the user to view an image on screen in order to produce it.

The 2BOT is an easy-to-use, computer-controlled milling machine that connects to a PC with a USB cable. This 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 $4 to $28 per piece depending upon the type of foam used.

To operate the 2BOT, the user removes a frame from the 2BOT, installs a piece of foam in the frame, and inserts the frame back into the 2BOT. The software is started, an image selected, parameters set, and the job started. When the first side of the model is complete, the foam dust is vacuumed out, and 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 2The MakerBot Replicator 2 is a 3D printer that uses spools of ABS filament to construct models by melting and then depositing drops of molten plastic under computer control. The Replicator 2 can create models 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 also easy to use—it connects to a PC using 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 of bread until the loaf is complete. The process is similar for the Replicator. 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 overhang, 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 is proud to sell these fine products. Anyone with questions should contact the author by writing to Robert Jaquiss, Director, 3D Tactile Graphics Division, American Thermoform Corporation, 1758 Brackett Street, La Verne, CA 91750; or by phone at (909) 593-6711, ext. 107; by email at <>; or check out the website <>.

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