Exploring 3D Printing for Schools

So over the break, I did some playing and learning about 3D printers. There are two aspects to them really – the software you use and the printer hardware itself. This is a summary of my notes, thoughts and current understanding of the things.

Software
Software is actually easy. There are 2 parts to the software; Design Software and Control Software. There is basically 3 parts to 3D printing something;

  1. Design it
  2. Slice it – this is the process of taking your 3D object and cutting it into the layers that will be printed. Some software to control the printer will do this, sometimes it is done in the design software. Almost all printers use the same file type for output to actually print from. It’s called G-code. Simply put you have software, that renders whatever you want into this code, which is then used by the printer. Almost ever printer will read gcode.
  3. Control your printer

 

Design Software

This is what you draw/model in.

Great place to start is TinkerCAD. – free and online

https://www.tinkercad.com/

after that, there are lots and lots of options.

  • Blender – free
  • Fusion 360 (autodesk) – free for schools * one I am learning at the moment.
  • Sketchup
  • Archicad (free for teachers. not sure for students)
  • OpenSCAD
  • Sculptris
  • netFabb

 

Control Software

This is the software that configures the settings of your printer. Most printers are configure in the file you save – they are not directly controlled live by the computer, unless you want to set it up that way.

Cura – this is the most popular control software out there, from what I understand. Open source and free.

https://ultimaker.com/en/products/ultimaker-cura-software

Pronterface – another very popular one.

http://www.pronterface.com/

 

Hardware

There are lots of options out there, but the important thing I have learnt, is that most printers are created equal, at least below the $1000 mark. It seems to be all about the follwing things;

  1. resolution
  2. heating bed
  3. number and type of extruders
  4. Bed size

There are lots of options and lots of brands. From what I gather, almost everything is the same, when it comes down to the basic parts.

At this stage, I’m not going to get into specific discussion about specific brands; I want to be general at the moment.

In schools, we have 4 things to primarily consider with 3D printer Hardware;

  • Printer Cost
  • Printing Material Cost (filament)
  • Ease of Repair
  • Print Time

Costs – let face it, we are schools. We have limited funds and want those funds to be spent wisely. A wiz bang printer that will print metal or use a liquid resin medium, would be very cool, but in all honesty, students would most likely never end up using it for anything.

You want to be able to use generic generic parts. You want to be able to repair it yourself and do it quickly; the thing will break. But a few weeks at a repair shop (even under warranty) will destroy a unit of work that is using it.

You want to be able to use generic filament. Some models use special spools and special filament. I recommend looking for one that uses 1.75mm filament, as it is the easiest to buy.

You only need to be print in basic materials – ABS, PLA, PVA. Everything else is a bonus, and quite possibly will never be used, at least by students, as the cost can be prohibative.

See http://3dprintingfromscratch.com/common/3d-printer-filament-types-overview/  for a good guide to the different filament types. There are lots more than listed, but it is a great start to them.

You also want to ensure that your printer will support (physically) the filament roll size you buy; as a 1KG roll will not work on a printer that only supports 500g.

Print Time – this is basically about how long things take to print. A general rule, is that it will potentially take a few hours. The videos you see of things printing, are almost always sped up. 3D printing takes time. There are two ways to speed up printing – lower the print resolution or use multiple extruders.

One advantage of multiple extruders, if they are independent of each other, is that you can print multiple projects at the same time on some models.

* good place to note, read the specs carefully – there are printers that have multiple extruders (dual extruders) and printers that print with multiple materials (sometimes called dual material) printers. They are not the same thing!

 

 

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