The 3D printer I selected to test additive rapid prototyping for simple objects within the SOLID Learning model is produced by MakerBot Industries, who have been kind enough to provide one of their remarkable MakerBot Replicators through the MakerBot Education service for testing and development of my research. Obviously, the Replicator is an example of a more mature version of this printer than its original form – MakerBot Industries has produced three generations of their product: the CupCake, Thing-o-Matic and Replicator (left to right, below).
MakerBot itself was originally a kit for DIY assembly and it still retains marks of the original kit in the laser-cut wood exterior and control electronics built around a special Shield for the popular Arduino controller. Shields add features to the basic Arduino, which is based on the Atmel microprocessor and widely used by Makers and DIY developers. MakerBot’s Shield adds capability to an Arduino MEGA board, supporting control over multiple stepper motors, responses to switches for calibration and other functions necessary to the operation of the 3D printer.
MakerBot’s CupCake kit was developed from the RepRap project’s open source hardware design for a 3D Printer – so-named because it was intended to be able to self-replicate (print another 3D printer – or its parts, at least). Replicating Rapid Prototyping (RepRap) printers need only common hardware such as bolts and screws, together with open source 3D-printable parts and the Arduino open source electronics to make a complete 3D printer.
At its most basic form, the RepRap is a plastic extruder that can be moved up and down (z axis) and back and forth (x axis) above a platform that can move backwards and forwards (y axis) so that as melted plastic is forced from the extruder, it is deposited in layers based on x, y, and z coordinates of the object to be created. All of this is suspended in a rigid frame to make sure that the extruder remains oriented to the object being printed as it moves back and forth.
All components for a RepRap are “simple” 3D printable objects using the SOLID Learning model and so can be created at the local or regional level for distribution to additional schools or individual classrooms to facilitate hands-on uses by students that may extend well beyond the original scope of the SOLID Learning concept.
The marvel of open source hardware, electronics and software that make up a RepRap mean that 3D Printing can become a vehicle for greater capability for 3D Printing, which can expand in turn to reach even more students and additional schools. The initial SOLID Learning equipment will facilitate an explosion of 3D printing capability throughout our educational system.
Multi-material and multi-color 3D Printers will still be needed for complex objects and commercial equipment such as the MakerBot Replicator includes additional features such as a heated plate that helps melted plastic adhere better to the platform. However, a few high-end systems for complex objects combined with fully-featured commercial simple object printers will then allow a multitude of hand-crafted 3D printers to be created – providing ever-expanding opportunities for 3D facilitated education and innovative design at all levels of the educational system.
This is one of the key lessons for students dealing with rapid prototyping – that they can create not only objects but also tools necessary to make use of those objects in turn. Everything from protective cases to miniaturized machine lathes (see below) can be created using the same techniques that produce solid objects, allowing 3D printed creations to facilitate further creation even when using materials that cannot be printed out such as wood.
The sky is quite literally the limit for, when mankind extends our exploration to neighboring planets, rapid prototyping will ensure that we have the tools we need even when the nearest hardware store is far, far away. The SOLID Learning model is intended to get these tools to where they are needed most – into the hands of kids in schools everywhere today!
Main SOLID Learning Post: http://www.stemulate.org/2012/05/05/solid-learning/