3D Printer

For a while now I’ve pondered whether it’d be useful to have a 3D Printer and how much use I’d put one to both at home and whether one would be useful in school. I’d seen the town design pack/activity from Kidesign and it looked pretty interesting. However, it still needed a decision on which printer to purchase. It is possible to send files off to be printed out off-site but it seemed doing that means you miss out on a crucial part of the fun in watching whatever you’ve designed get printed out. So, purchasing it was.

Well, I must have looked a quite a few and confused myself over and over again. I didn’t want to spend a lot in case it was a passing fad or just didn’t work and I certainly didn’t want to go down the route of a self-build kit. The Flashforge Finder looked like it might fit the bill and I’d seen them mentioned by others on various places on the web. I was still pondering one of these and the Kidville option when I stumbled across an alternative on Indiegogo, a crowd-funding site.

This printer is the Toybox ($349 for it and 8 reels of printer food) and it intrigued me because of its simplicity and the library of ready made toys available to print from an app or via the web. No drivers to install and like other web-based products, easily updated by the manufacturers without any effort on the user’s part. Now, I do appreciate that part of the purpose of 3D printing is to design your own things and have them printed, but this put a potential barrier in the way for some pupils. For those pupils who do want to design their own items, Toymaker has simple design software available and also the ability to import from other software, such as TinkerCad. I’d emailed the team and they kindly set up a video conference so we could have a chat. I got a very positive vibe from speaking to them and after pondering, reasoned that if they had a reliable product, software development would follow. In fact, between this and ordering, toys have been added to the library and I’m confident the software will develop too.

So, partly because I have 2 grandchildren to amuse on occasions and this looked a good way to keep them occupied, and partly because I could see the advantages of not necessarily having to design prior to printing, I ordered one.

It arrived over the Easter holidays and I cracked on setting it up, which I have to say was very easy.  I printed out a few of the quicker toys and the results were pretty impressive. Changing the printer food- ink- is straightforward and removing the toys from the bed is simple. Some printers have heated beds that you need to prise the finished items off, but this has a flexible magnetic one that you just bend to release the toy. My two grandchildren chose a couple of toys each and they were thrilled to both watch them print and have something none of their friends will have.

I printed out a few more items and after Easter took it to Kingswood Parks and the expectant Computer Club. I’d told them what I’d ordered and they were very excited by the prospect of borrowing my printer to use! As at home, we printed off items from the toy library and it’s amazing how many folk, pupils and staff, will gather round a 3D printer to watch. When other staff saw the printed output… talk about Wow Factor. One or two of the pupils had designed with Toybox’s Creator space apps and a couple used TinkerCad, which obviously offers more scope for the time being.

I took the printer home after the initial session just to get more use at home before I lost it to the school for a while and to iron out any potential pitfalls: changing reels, removing printed toys, etc.

So, the question I imagine most folk are asking is: Did everything go smoothly? Well, no, although it wasn’t anything serious. The printer comes ready calibrated, but when I went to print out a plane shaped cookie cutter the result was a little disappointing. A look at the help page, a confirming email and a turn or two with an allen key later and all was well. I understand that most printers work fine out of the box but sometimes things shift during shipping. If all it takes is the occasional turn with an allen key, I’m fine with that.

I also had a bit of a problem with a badge I tried to create for the Eco club at KWP. (The inks/printer food are ecologically sound, by the way). I contacted Toybox and one of their templates was at fault. It has now been corrected. These minor issues also showed just how good the support is from Toybox, which is a positive.

I did try printing a design one of the pupils had created in TinkerCad and it didn’t work at all well. So, another email to the ever patient and helpful Ben at Toybox pointed out a few fundamental design flaws. It was clear this 3D printing wasn’t as straightforward as getting a sheet of A4 from the inkjet. At this point I decided that it might be wise to stick to printing designs from the toy library and creating in Toybox’s own software for now until we’ve all learned a little more about 3d printing.

The printer is currently in residence at Kingswood Parks Primary School. The Computer Club is has embraced the printer and has part become an enterprise club too, with a website created in J2Bloggy underway, flyers being created and a financial model nearing completion.

The decision on whether to run a shop on a regular basis or focus on printing stock ready for the summer fair is still to be taken but either way it will have items printed from the toy library and designs created with the Toybox software. Depending on our learning curve we may attempt some simple designs done using tinkerCad, but at the moment I think there’s plenty of scope using what we’ve got. The children who have designed and printed using Creator Space haven’t expressed dissatisfaction with its functionality and have been delighted either by choosing from the library or creating a simple custom design.

I hope that from what has gone on so far it’s possible to see the potential of one of these in school.

So, a successful purchase? Absolutely. The pupils, and staff, get to see a real 3D printer in action, can select and print from a ready made selection, but can then explore easy to use software to create their own. If something hasn’t printed correctly, we look at it and consider why and try again.  Some time in the future either the Toybox software will develop and/or a more advanced printer can be considered and we progress, but for now, this has been a hit and I suspect it’ll remain one for quite a while.

If you want to chat about this further do drop me a line or call and remember that the prices on the site don’t include import duty. That demand arrives a while later. It added about £40 to the cost.

Key Chains and Pendants

Rings

Cookie cutters

My 1st Pendant Designs. Move over Wendy Ramshaw!

Update:

We’d printed some cookie cutters and gave them to the Vice-Principal, probably because in a conversation she’d mentioned a cooking area in the school’s new extension and  I formed an association between the two. Anyway, she road tested them and the results were delicious.

 

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