September 18, 2014

Design and Process: 3D Printing in the Classroom

After our first earbud holder was printed last week my students really got excited about making their own. It didn’t take long before the 3D printers were up and running, printing several earbud holders at once.

This provided many learning opportunities for all of us. Using Cubify Draw for the first time, I really had to figure out the workflow to get things moving. I ran into a problem with the program because once a file had been uploaded to the Cubify website, it was impossible to tell what the file was. That means I have multiple students uploading files and we can’t tell which file belongs to which student. Fortunately, I have very capable students. One student figured out how to log in and open the files on our printing software. Then she was able to tell if we had printed them and whose file they were. She saved the files to the computer and renamed them so we could tell who they belong to.

In no time we had two 3D printers running in the classroom. It was fun to see so many projects being printed at once. The students were enthralled and we had our first batch done in no time. Their creativity really shined. We had a star, a mustache, and several shapes that students designed to be fun but also efficient.

Designing anything is a process.

Designing anything is a process.

Of course, this is a process. Some students quickly found out that their designs could be improved on. One of the biggest disappointments was the star. It looked so good on the printer, but when we tried to take it off it fell apart. There’s a concept in the world of 3D printing called “watertight”. It means pretty much what it sounds like. Your design needs to be solid without gaps or holes in the geometry – especially where edges are supposed to meet. You can always design holes to be integrated with water tight edges. That is what happened with the star. The edges were just off by a hair. It printed beautifully, but was not connected at its edges. That student has gone back to the drawing board, and I am excited to see what she comes up with next.

The students have been using their earbud holders for a few days now, and I am wondering how many of them see issues that they will want to fix. It’s really going to get exciting when the students are introduced to design programs that can do even more.

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