Updated: Feb 19, 2021
With the onset of the new school year approaching, one might think that 3D printers in all the labs and maker spaces will just sit and collect dust until the kids get back. This shouldn't be the case, in fact, there are many opportunities to get these 3D printers up and running, the way in which they can be utilized will just be a bit different, but hasn't everything about this year been just a bit different too? The easiest way is remote printing. The idea of remote printing is nothing new, many "next-gen" printers provide some form of cloud-based printing option which can allow one to send a g-gode file straight to a "ready" printer and begin printing. The most universal of these applications and one that can be used ubiquitously is Octoprint. The simple set-up will allow you to monitor and run multiple printers at one time. It is relatively easy to use (small learning curve for the software) and performs very effectively. The embedded option for remote viewing of the printer and printing process opens the door for creative and engaging conversations about how the printer and printing process actually works by providing a great opportunity to diagnosis and troubleshoot failed prints, designs and settings. This gets at the heart of the engineering design process and allows students to engage in collaborative efforts to help find a plausible cause and possible solution. Students and teachers will also find the time-lapse option rewarding as they can watch their own print come to fruition in just seconds!
The idea of remotely printing projects will require some forethought by the teacher as they will need to set up their own schedule and expectations for their classes and the printing process. Online tutorials for CAD sites such as the popular Tinkercad or Google Sketch-up can be done remotely, producing finished stl files that then can be converted to printable (g-code) files.
Providing online tutorials for printer usage and operation can be created and used as additional resources for learning the dynamics of the 3D printing process as well as gaining initial proficiency on the use and operation of the available 3D printers. Prints can be stored, shipped or picked up by students/parents/guardians as deemed acceptable based on individual school based policies and procedures. Given the current pandemic and educational situation, opportunities to learn the complexity of industrial design, the flow of production, assembly, deadlines, expectations, rapid prototyping, research and failure can still be engaging and rewarding to all involved.
The level of engagement and the use of the 3D printers in the school space will be dependent on the teacher and their willingness to engage in the oversight of the overall process. However the opportunity to use these valuable tools should not be overlooked during this period of flux. Front loading/flipping the classroom with the basics of 3D printing, procedures and design can help turbo-charge the return of your students and a return to in-person 3D printing and design!