The current plan is to obtain a 3D printer from MakerBot Industries, the Replicator. Why this manufacturer and this model when there are other 3D printers available? I’m glad you asked that (or at least thought it)!
The Replicator was selected because it is:
- Capable - The Replicator can create interesting objects with significant visual appeal because it can print out objects with two colors at the same time. And the Replicator is larger than most models in its cost range, allowing teachers to print out robots with fewer pieces to connect and with longer individual components (legs, etc) so that the robots will be more durable.
While there are full-color 3D Printers available, like the magnificent ZCorp 3d Printer 650, but these cost too much for small schools to afford at up to $50,000 USD per printer. While ZCorp is the current top of the line, but several inexpensive 3D printers can print objects one color at a time, breaking objects apart into multiple pieces for multi-color assembly.
The purpose of my research is to determine if personalization improves student interest in STEM and color selection was identified by kids as the next-most important factor after selection of the type of robot. Additionally, multiple print runs require a more teacher time before a student’s robot frame is ready for multi-color designs using other small 3D Printers.
- Available – Based on an open-source hardware design licensed under the GNU GPLv3, MakerBot’s designs can be downloaded to actually print out the pieces for another MakerBot - needing only electronics and a few specialized mechanical components to make another smaller 3D printer like the Thing-o-Matic. MakerBots are common in DIY circles, so teachers will have an easier time locating the same type of equipment for their own program and people who can diagnose any issues.
- Supported - Because Makerbots are so commonplace in makerspaces and hackerspaces around the world as part of the growing DIY “Maker” movement (another excellent STEM-enabling program), the community of existing users is very large. Teachers will be able to seek ideas from local users as well as from the very extensive international online comunity of 3D printing enthusiasts!
- Extensive – Makerbot’s community already has a massive library of free-to-download designs though their Thingiverse site, which offers thousands of free open-source/creative commons 3D objects available for use in expanding class robot options and in sharing our designs for others to use in turn.
- Durable – Unlike many inexpensive 3D printers or do-it-yourself “Fabbers” (another term for 3D printers), the Replicator is a very well-developed product borrowing lessons learned from its earlier cousins, the Cupcake CNC and the Thing-O-Matic. Some systems can be “quirky” in their operation and it is critical that teachers be able to spend more time teaching than in trying to get their printers to work.
For an affordable cost the features and community available in MakerBot’s Replicator made it the best possible option for our #SciFund Challenge entry.
- I have researched many different technologies for rapid prototyping (3D printing is one type of this) as I curate 3D printer and Maker movement topics at Scoop.It and Paper.Li. The Makerbot is continually used as the “bar” for home 3D printers due to its widespread use – only the earlier RepRap has more familiaritiy in the fabber/maker communities.
- All designs from our project will be shared using open-source file types so that teachers can use whatever type of printer they have available – and we will design them for full-size production in the Replicator as well as segmented production in smaller 3D Printers.
- My research involves the impact of personal choice within lessons to build STEM interest in young students, particularly young ladies who are historically underrepresented in these areas – so the multi-colored printing ability would benefit the range of personalization options for this research. After that, even a single-color printer can produce useful robot from these models for classes held at other locations.