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3D printing for “proof of concept”

One of our A Level students has a very interesting project for her coursework. It's all about designing and making a stage set for a small or travelling theatre company. Of course the set has to be easy to assemble, take down and transport, so she has investigated using lightweight materials and a bespoke system for assembling a framework. Being uncertain about how the frame might fit together she has designed some fittings using Autodesk Inventor and 3D printed them using our 3D Systems CubeX machines… Just to prove that the concept will work!

Her next steps will be to refine the designs having found out that her idea works ready for final production. Really looking to forwards to seeing how this iterative designing develops…. Great work Polli!

Fit for purpose #3DPrinting and CAD projects for #D&T students

I have recently been giving quite a lot of thought into what makes a good CAD and 3D printing project for my students to work on. … And it has really started to stretch my mind :o)

There's a lot of buzz about 3D printing at the moment and with a few different initiatives kicking off in education in England (and the world) I started to think about what all the newly acquired 3D printers were going to be used for in Design and Technlogy and STEM subjects. As anyone who has used a 3D printer will know it isn't ever going to produce instant results so the temptation is to get the students to design small objects. Objects that are as flat as possible keeping print time to a minimum so that whole class sets can be “banged out”. This fills me with horror, what are we going to see this 21st Century technology producing? …. KEYTAGS !!! :o(

So what do we need to do?….

One of the first things to consider is “Why do we have to print every design?”… Only printing a few of the “best” designs from a group of students isn't all that bad. In fact in my experience it can introduce an element of competition into the learning experience. And students do work harder and produce better thought out designs in trying to make sure that they can print theirs. Being open and honest about this from the start of the project avoids any disappointment and also brings a bit of reality to the classroom… In the real world it is after all only the best designs that make it to manufacture and succeed in the market place.

We should also consider why we are using 3D printing as a method of manufacturing designs in the first place. To my mind the great advantage of 3D printing is that it is one of the few ways of designing and making things in school that allows true iterative designing and of course iterative designing is one of the key elements of the 2014 National Curriculum in England. With 3D printing it is possible to make a design relatively quickly (especially compared to the many hours that can be spent in using hand tools to make an object), so after testing and evaluating the printed object it is quite feasible to go through another iterative cycle and make improved versions of the product.

Having now considered how many objects to print and using iterative designing within the projects I might be a bit closer to thinking about a “fit for purpose” 3D designing and printing project, but there are some other things that should be taken into account.

Designing for “fit”… It may seem obvious but many projects don't really require students to design products that properly fit together. Over the last couple of days I have been playing around with a sort of desk tidy idea and this is perhaps a good example of what I have been thinking about. I wanted something that not only looked cool but was functional on my desk, so I had the idea of doing a “spiral thing with pencils”…. Easy, or so I thought! I roughly measured the diameter of a pencil and made some angled holes in a base… But what I didn't take into account was that the angle changed the shape of the holes, they became elliptical and the “fit” of the pencils wasn't good….. Grrrr! … So my next iteration took this into account by making the holes conical to match the taper of the pencils (and a bit bigger too so that the points wouldn't be broken). This time it was better but I hadn't taken into account the diameter of the base that would space out my 20 pencils correctly but also economically use materials…. And now I found that the pencils were a sloppy fit and didn't always line up properly. Anyway, my point is that a project that has to function properly and fit together accurately can be a lot more challenging than it first appears.

So, am I any further with thinking up new projects for students? Well, yes and no. I'm a lot clearer in what I want the projects to do, I just need to think more about the context for the products and find something that will grab the students attention, challenge their designing and thinking skills and build on their creativity!… Time to ask the students what they think!

Blokify the @Cubify iPad app to get young pupils into #3DPrinting

Personally I'm not all that into games on computers or tablets, I see these devices as being more for “doing” things with. But a can see that these programs and apps have great appeal to youngsters. So why not use them as a way to introduce kids to designing an making with 3D printing?

Well that's just what 3D Systems and Cubify have done with the new app “Blokify”. It's available for iOS and Android. Here is the link to the Apple App Store.

The app is a bit like “Minecraft” in that simple blocks (bloks?) can be assembled into all sorts of structures… Castles, forts, etc. And then of course exported or in this case emailed as a .stl file.

Even for an oldie like me who has never played with computer games the app proved to be extremely intuitive to construct my castle…. A colleague of mine commented that even her 4 year old was able to use Blokify, so it doesn't really say much about my skill level :o)

Anyway, here is a screenshot from the Blokify app that I have exported and is currently printing on my CubeX 3D printer…. I'll post another picture when it's completed.

The app is free to download and comes as standard with a few different building bloks but it's an in app purchase to unlock some extra different bloks using “diamonds” as currency (note that as this is mainly an app for kids safeguards are built in to help prevent them running up big bills on your Apple store account)

Here is a quick picture taken mid print…. Love the texture that is showing up on the castle walls!

Anyway, I'm really impressed by how well this all works. So congratulations Cubify on a great app to encourage creativity in 3D printing for youngsters!


And here it is…. My first mini Blokify castle!


@3DSystemscorp Partners With @Teach_Design For UK Education Initiative

Great news announced today…. Check out the 3D Systems press release..

November 20, 2013: Leading 3D printing manufacturer 3D Systems (NYSE:DDD) today announced an innovative partnership with Teach Design, a not-for-profit organisation set up to provide very low cost training to UK Design Technology teachers.

Twenty regional Teach Design Tech Centres are being established in secondary schools across the UK and will be equipped with award-winning 3D Systems Cubeand CubeX 3D printers which will be made available for use across the curriculum by both primary and secondary schools.

The move by 3D Systems ensures that teachers will be able to learn how to maximise the use of 3D printers in the classroom, not just in design technology but across all areas of the curriculum. The machines will also be made available to STEMNET ambassadors to promote 3D printing in their voluntary work with children.

3D Systems UK Education Co-ordinator Iain Major said, “This partnership with Teach Design is very exciting as training is the key to ensuring that both staff and students can get the most from this cutting edge technology. 3D printing is a wonderful medium to allow students to understand the processes of designing for production and discover their innovation potential as we live in the time of the circular economy. It is going to be very exciting to see what students come up with.”

Teach Design’s co-founder Phil Holton said “We are delighted with the generous donation of these fabulous machines. We plan to train thousands of teachers in the use of the Cube and CubeX printers to get the most from using them in class. We will also be publishing lots of project resources for teachers to use with their students.”

Learn more about 3D Systems commitment to education today.

Building on Making Learning Irresistible -in D&T

On Friday I was given the opportunity to run a workshop for the North Somerset Learning Exchange… A primary school conference called Building on Making Learning Irresistible. My workshop was primarily to look at the implications of the new national curriculum for Design and Technology.

The first part of the workshop involved a presentation and discussion “unpicking” the key parts of the document and looking at how schools might change the activities they do with their children in the context of their school.

The second part was “hands on” with some of the newer technologies, 3D Printing, Robotics and programming, and CAD/CAM.

The conference happened to be taking place on the BBC “Children in Need” day. So the mascot Pudsey Bear inevitably made a few appearances.


Before finishing this post I must thank a few people for helping out with the organisation, loan of equipment and inspiration for the workshop…. Clevedon School Learning Hub, North Somerset Learning Exchange and Teach Design for all the organisation and admin. 3D Systems for providing the Cube 3D printer, Roland DG for providing the vinyl cutters, VEX Robotics for the loan of the VEX IQ Clawbot.


@Teach_Design @3DSystemscorp @Cubify and #3DPrinting

Middle of the school holiday and I found myself in school doing some teaching… Some may say a little bit crazy. But all for good reasons and very exciting.

Ok, so it wasn't like a normal teaching day, this was something a bit special, perhaps I had better explain a bit more fully…

I have found myself involved with a new organisation called “Teach Design” http://www.teachdesign.org.uk who have recently set up to promote and support D&T and STEM. They are partnering with some leading hardware and software companies to provide equipment, training, resources etc to schools throughout the country… One of the aims of Teach Design is to set up “Teach Design Tech Centres” (TDTCs), and this is where my involvements starts.

One of the Teach Design partners is 3D Systems who manufacture the Cube and CubeX 3D Printers and as you may realise I have worked closely with 3D Systems for some considerable time. So I suppose I was seen as ideally placed to provide some training in 3D printing to the guys who will soon be running the TDTCs and using 3D Systems machines.

Unfortunately, not everyone from the 10 TDTCs were able to make it down to Clevedon today but we made a start on the training anyway … the meeting/training had been rescheduled from earlier in the week due to a huge storm (hurricane?) that had swept the country. But we still had delegates from as far afield as Wales and Derbyshire.

And as for the training… As you can see from the pictures everyone was shown how to set up and print with both Cube and CubeX machines ready to set up in their own school. And at this point I must thank Iain and Aaron from 3DS for their help in doing this. And as an aside, it was a bit of a proud moment for me to see Aaron who is an ex-student of mine teaching and supporting other teachers!



Putting a CubeX 3D printer through its paces

Coming up soon I will be running a training day together with the Iain from 3D Systems, showing the guys from TeachDesign how to set up and use the Cube and CubeX 3D printers.

As you may gather from this blog I have been using RapMan, BfB3000 and 3DTouch machines in school for quite a long time now and have recently been using a 3D Systems Cube…. But I hadn't used a CubeX.

Just over a week ago I received a CubeX Trio and since then have been tinkering around doing a few test prints just to get myself acquainted with it and see what differences there might be.


Even in this short time I have been really impressed by the CubeX. It is very well built and it looks good too!

My trusty 3DTouch could produce some excellent multi colour/material prints but I have found that it is put in the shade by the CubeX…. It's faster, even more accurate and easier to use.

The CubeX software is a little more complex than that for the Cube (inevitably due to the 3 print jets) but I found that importing a .stl file with multiple shells and setting up a 3 colour print was really straight forwards.

Wanting to really try it out I designed this twisted hexadecagon (16 sided) container using CAD software and set it up for printing in very patriotic red, white and blue PLA. Keeping the object small (about 30mm across) meant that there would be lots of swaps between the printjets in a short time, and the spiral meant that the colours would slightly overlay each other…. An ideal opportunity to see if the colours smudge into each other. As you can see, after a couple of hours printing the little container printed superbly!.. It's worth noting that all the pictures shown here are showing the objects straight off the CubeX, no cleaning up, no de-stringing, etc.

I must say that I'm very impressed with the Cubex and I'm sure my students will be too!


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