Why have I been so quiet? 3D Printers are to blame, I swear.

This post has been cross posted onto the Bonny Eagle Technology Department blog as well. Given that I've been so quiet on this blog lately, I thought it would be a good idea to share it here since this has been my focus so far this year.

Last Spring, the Technology Department came upon an opportunity to bring 3D printing into our schools through a package deal offered by MakerBot, one of the most well known 3D printer companies out there. Bonny Eagle Middle School opted to take advantage of the offer and was subsequently able to bring two MakerBot Replicators (5th Generation) as well as MakerBot Digitizer, which can scan 3D objects, into their school. The printers spent last spring in the technology department as we learned more about the best practices and support methods we could use to ensure the technology would be ready to go before implementation.

This past fall, we installed both printers and the scanner into classrooms in the middle school and the student body has been fascinated with the opportunities they can provide. Since the start of the school year, we have been able to bring another two 3D printers into the middle school. One was funded through DonorsChoose.org for Mr. O'Searcoid, one of our 8th grade math teachers, and another was generously given to us from the Perloff Foundation after they found our YouTube Channel. With four printers available, it enables us to print more designs simultaneously while giving us the flexibility to print designs up to 8"x8"x10".

The MakerBot Replicator sporting it's informational sign in room 97.
The MakerBot Replicator sporting it's informational sign in room 97.
As the technology coach for the school and a former industrial technology teacher from the high school, I took on the role of managing the printers and training the faculty and students how they can use them in the classroom. In this blog series, I'm going to talk about what we have learned during our 3D printing journey as well as share how the printers are being used. If you are ever in the middle school and see a 3D printer, each of them now has a sign with it so that you can learn more about how that particular printer was funded, what it cost, a bit about the technology itself, and you can find out what is being printed. The printer from the Perloff Foundation can be see in the Main Office, so check it out the next time you visit. Although it is the most compact printer we have, it is the quietest and least expensive printer in the school. It certainly has been entertaining for anyone who passes by while it is printing!

First off, you likely have a lot of questions spinning around in your head about 3D printers. Here are the common ones that I have received thus far:

  1. How does it work?
    In the most basic sense, 3D printers work by melting a plastic string, known as filament, to ~428 degrees Fahrenheit and extruding it through a nozzle much like a hot glue gun does. The material comes out less than the thickness of a strand of hair and the printer layers each strand to build the design. The filament cools extremely quickly and is safe to handle immediately after the print is finished.
  2. How much do they cost? It must be a lot!
    Actually, 3D printing has become much more affordable in recent years. The MakerGear M2 printer in Mr. O'Searcoid's room is $1,825 on Amazon, the MakerBot Replicators are $1,499.97 on Amazon and the FlashForge Finder is only $499 on Amazon.
  3. How much does it cost to print?
    There are several factors that change the cost of printing a design: how big is it, how solid does it need to be, and what filament is being use to print. No matter what the design is, most of them are actually printed with very little filament on the inside (usually 5 to 15% of the interior is filled). We have also been using Hatchbox filament, which is very inexpensive to print with. Almost all of the designs we have printed since the beginning of the school year are less than $1.00 in material cost.
  4. How long does it take to print?
    It is not uncommon for a more complicated design to take a few hours to print, which is certainly a good reason to have multiple printers on site. For more basic or smaller designs, such as fidget rings, the job is typically printed in under 30 minutes.
  5. How are the designs being made?
    Most of the students are using TinkerCAD or 123D Design, both from AutoDesk, to create their designs. With either application, the students are combining shapes and holes together to build their object with three dimensions. Once the file is created, it is exported as an .STL files which is then submitted by their teacher for printing.
  6. Can I watch what is printing?
    Although we do not stream every job that we print, you can check out my blog for the 3D printers are watch the videos that we have posted so far. Most of them are sped up once we have concluded the live broadcast, so you can see it item being printed from start to finish at warp speed. You can also see the videos on our YouTube channel, which is also where we share our live broadcasts.
If you have any other questions about the 3D printers, feel free to comment on this blog post and I'll answer any questions you might have.

I'm going to be posting a series of articles on the technology department blog surrounding 3D printing, so be sure to follow along over there if you'd like to learn more about what we're doing.

Never stop learning. Susie from SimmonsClassroom.com


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