It’s been impossible to escape all the talk and excitement about 3D printing lately and, like many people, I was becoming quite curious to get a look at this new technology. Ken Ambach, the Friends Academy tech director, had been sending emails with links to articles and videos for a few months when I heard that a Makerbot Replicator 2 was purchased and had arrived on campus. Currently, the Makerbot lives in the tech office of the upper school classroom building where Adam Weber, a member of the tech dept. who also teaches AP Computer Science, is learning to use it and making some interesting objects.
I spent some time with Ken to hear his plans for the 3D printer and to get a sneak peak. Ken explained that students in our engineering course will be able to use it to test their designs, Vex Robotics students may find it useful for making parts for their robots, and two new upper school electives in engineering and 3D design may be using it next fall as well. I asked Ken to describe what working with a 3D printer was like. “It’s a bit finicky in the way a kiln can be,” he said, “and management of the printer needs to be done by an adult or a highly trained student. There are a lot of settings that need to be adjusted, and it is quite difficult to get high quality prints.”
The Makerbot Replicator 2, six spools of plastic and a service contract cost under $3,000. We use Makerware software to send a 3D design to our MakerBot, which then turns the design into a 3D object out of PLA (Polylactic Acid) plastic. This plastic doesn’t give off fumes like some other plastics, is really shiny and is biodegradable. It does take a long time to make even a simple object. Some of the objects pictured below took five hours to print. We also use Blender, a free, open-source 3D computer graphics program used for 3D printing as well as special effects for films. One of the jobs of the software is to make decisions about the structural elements of the object to be printed. While you don’t need to know programming to use the software, there is definitely a technical learning curve.
It seems you may not know what the 3D printer can do for you until a need comes up. Rob Grella, also a member of our tech department, had a flat tire on his car not long ago. When he took the car to the shop to get the tire repaired the mechanic noticed that an important ring was missing from the wheel assembly, but unfortunately, the shop did not have the exact size ring to fit his wheel, which is 67.8 millimeters on the outside and 57.1 millimeters on the inside. After spending a lot of time searching for the ring online he was still unable to locate it. And, he discovered that his car needed four rings, not just one! Rob then asked Adam if our Makerbot could make the four rings for his car. Adam went to work and successfully printed four rings by adapting 3D modeling plans found on Thingiverse, a website where people share digital designs. The ring, pictured below, fit perfectly!
The F.A. Makerbot is still pretty new, but lots of students and teachers have been checking it out and interest is growing. If you want to see a working Makerbot printer you can watch the Makerbot Replicator 2 in action and take classes and workshops in their store in Brooklyn.
Link & Photos:
For a 13-minute, fascinating look at the future of 3D printing, check out the link below.
This green ring was made for Rob’s car wheel on the FA MakerBot 3D printer
Made on the Friends Academy MakerBot 3D printer