07 December 2013

3D Printing: First Impressions

Our Makerbot Replicator2 3D printer arrived this week. Fortunately, I had a lot of open time on Friday to start playing with it. Our Assistant Principal is as excited about it as I am, so he and I spent a lot of time reading the manual, printing, exploring Thingiverse, and becoming evangelists for the awesome that is 3D printing. I've got a long way to go, but I definitely learned a lot yesterday.

We were like kids on Christmas morning as we opened the boxes yesterday. There's no real assembly required, just connecting a tube, attaching the plate, and loading the thread. We had it powered on within a minute of getting it out of the box. The user's manual is very reader friendly. It walked us through the steps of preparing your printer in just a few minutes.

There are five pre-loaded files you can print: a nut & bolt, a shark figurine, a set of four connected chain links, a comb, and a stretchy bracelet. Over the course of the day, we printed them all. My favorite is the chain links; what really amazes me about them is how the links didn't get stuck together as they printed.

We had two little mistakes to learn from early on. After printing our first file, the shark, we stopped for a few minutes. We came back and preheated the printer. I think we were maybe supposed to unload the thread in between. We noticed there was a problem when nothing came out of the extruder as the printer started trying to print. The fix was easy. We called customer support and had an operator within 30 seconds. He was very helpful and sent us an email with some links to help videos on YouTube. We had the blockage cleared in a matter of minutes. Then, it was back to printing! Our second mistake was in between making the bracelet and the comb. There was a little bit of thread still connected to the extruder as it started to print the comb. I should have wiped it off, but didn't get to it in time. By the time I noticed it, I tried to pull the string off, but it made a slight defect in one of the teeth of the comb. I will have to pay more attention to that next time.

Students are going to start using the printer in January. I can't wait to share what they create! I'd love to connect with other elementary schools that have a 3D printer, especially if it's a Makerbot Replicator2. You can tweet me at @stroudlibrary.

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