Thursday, October 02, 2014

Getting Started with 3D Printing - Part 1

I’ve had a 3D printer in my classroom for a couple of years now and it is totally awesome. Last year I wrote a blogpost answering a question I received as a tweet. The question was, “What resources or designs do you wish existed for teachers/students when you got your printer?” I’ve decided to do a series of posts from an educator’s point of view to create the resource I wish I'd had when I first got my 3D printer.

There are a lot of emerging technologies that are capturing attention today. Of all of these, I think 3D printing has the most power to inspire students. I managed to get the first generation MakerBot Replicator a couple years ago and every time it’s running in the back of my classroom it acts as a student magnet. Some would just stand and watch a print run from start to finish if I’d let them. I have to say it is pretty awesome to watch an object get made seemingly out of nothingness.

When I got my printer, it cost just under $2,000. Today you can get a pretty respectable machine for under $500 and if you want to go into the $2,000 to $3,000 range you can get a really nice printer. If you’re in the market for one I would highly recommend picking up a copy of Make: Ultimate Guide to 3D Printing. The last two years Make Magazine has done a great rundown on the consumer grade 3D printers that are available. If I was going to buy a new printer, this is where I’d start.

The main thing you need to know, is there are two broad categories of 3D printers you might consider for your classroom, Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) and Stereolithography (SL). My printer does FDM so that’s what I’m familiar with and able to speak to. I really want to try SL, because it’s totally cool. The most common printers in classrooms today use FDM, but this may change in the future.

In a nutshell, Fused Deposition Modeling printers melt plastic and push it out through a nozzle like a hot glue gun. The nozzle in this case is much smaller and hotter than a glue gun, however. The printer builds the object up one layer at a time.

Stereolithography printers use a liquid resin. The resin solidifies when a light is shined on it. These printers also build an object one layer at a time, but the do so a bit differently. The light source in an SL printer will either be a laser that traces a path similar to an FDM printer or a DLP projector that will simply project an image of the whole layer at one time. Once the layer at the top of the liquid solidifies, the printer lifts the growing object and the next layer is illuminated.

If you’re looking for more resources to get you started I’d recommend:

Continue to Part 2 in the series.

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