The NVPro printer has transformed the way we teach mechanical design at Belmont High School. Before the printer, when classes worked on 3D design projects, they were limited to creating only virtual models of parts. Since we have gotten the printer, students can actually print the models that they design.
In the Design and 3D printing class, we’re running 4 major projects through the course of the year, each with a unique challenge. The first project is a cubic block puzzle project where students design the pieces of a 3D puzzle and print them to take home. This project challenges them to lay out parts for 3D printing and understand that if parts are designed to fix exactly together in CAD, then they won’t fit together in “real life”.
We have a room diorama project where students design and print every aspect of a room (or series of rooms) that they conceive of and design. Students love the flexibility of the project – some designs include kitchens, game rooms, tiny houses, cabins, and patio spaces. Through this, they’re motivated to work on spaces that they’d love to see in “real life”, get a sense of how to scale, how to design so that parts are printable (understanding the limitations of the fabrication method), and how to work on assemblies in CAD.
The third project is a fidget spinner project where students design their own fidget spinners (I do recognize how passé this is and am working on a replacement project). Despite the passing of the fad, students again like the flexibility of the project and are challenged to incorporate external elements into their designs. With the room diorama, they design all of the parts, so fitting things together is easier. In the spinner project, they need to accommodate masses and bearings that are supplied to them, so they need to make sure they understand tolerances to accommodate those parts.
Finally, we work on a mechanisms project where students are tasked with building a working mechanism. This challenges them to design a multi-part assembly that moves. They need to be aware of how parts fit together, the different ways things can be mechanically assembled, and they get to create some pretty neat assemblies. Projects include waving hands and Mario Bros. scenes.
Having the ability to fabricate these 3D models opens up a world of depth that was previously unavailable. For example, when we model assemblies in CAD, we don’t need to worry about fabrication tolerances – the parts are always perfectly created the way we design them. When we add an actual fabrication step, we often see that parts don’t fit together the way they were designed. Students now need to consider not only the ideal dimensions of the parts they design, but they also get to print those parts, test the fit, and iterate their designs to take into account the fabrication tolerances. It’s worth noting that these fabrication tolerances aren’t unique to the world of 3D printing. ANY design that requires fabrication, regardless of method, will have some dimensional tolerance, and the students who leave the design class now have an understanding of the impact these fabrication tolerances have on their design concepts.
Another things students learn, and this skill is admittedly softer, is to persevere with their design challenges. The printer allows us to create student-designed parts quickly (often within 48 hours), so students get relatively immediate feedback about their work and are able to make changes and see the results of their improvements. This rapid-turnaround model of working shows students the value of iteration and perseverance with their work. Also, because the students see the results of their design changes in the real world instead of the ideal environment of the computer, they come to understand that design perfection is a goal, but only to work toward – never actually achieved. It’s both humbling and exciting for those students who understand that there is always room for improvement.
In Intro to Coding and AP Computer Science A, students were able to use BlocksCAD, a blocks-based computer aided design program designed to teach students coding skills. Over 75 students have been able to use their coding knowledge to write the code that would create projects such as a small trinket box, a flower, and projects of their own design.
The students were extremely excited to see the results of their work. They were able to use their printed models to demonstrate what portions of the code created which components of their object. Designing and printing with BlocksCAD also opened up a discussion regarding OpenSCAD and functional programming languages, which was not a topic previously covered in these classes.
We continue to challenge ourselves to make sure that the printer is a resource that will be utilized outside of the mechanical design classes. I’ve had numerous conversations with teachers in the art department about the availability of the resource and have recently worked on prints for some middle school science teachers. The printer has also been used as a resource for end-of-year calculus students who wanted to print the mathematical solids they designed. These are great steps, but we look forward to more prominent placement of the device and more openness and availability of the fabrication space to students in the new building.
See some examples of student work here: https://photos.app.goo.gl/NNq1yYn5Iea4wNEz2