[Educator Spotlight] Using 3D Printing to Bring Ideas to Life with Jon Benskin

Students at the Boca Raton Community High School use MakerBot 3D printing to explore, create, and innovate on design ideas

At Boca Raton Community High School, we emphasize student creativity and exploration through engineering, designing, prototyping, and building. Recently, we added the MakerBot METHOD X Carbon Fiber 3D printer to our family of MakerBot printers. Using MakerBot CloudPrint, the print management application, students had immediate access to the METHOD X platform which opened up a world of possibilities to what could be successfully printed. We have been able to move past some of the previous limitations of 3D printing through the diversity of materials that can be printed on METHOD X, especially dissolvable support materials. 

Going from Early Student Concept to Final Prototype

Recently, our students were tasked with making a small, wheeled vehicle that needed to be fast, stable, and rigid. This vehicle needed to remain consistent from use to use, so structural durability was one of our top priorities for this design. 

Our workflow will often begin on a whiteboard where students and instructors can brainstorm ideas and create rough sketches of design prototypes. Simple ideas for the vehicle’s frame and chassis were drawn, discussed, and modified. Refinements of this design then took place in the digital platform as students worked to create a 3D model.

Sketching It Out

Once a final 3D prototype was designed, we printed these parts of the chassis with an early prototyping material like PLA while utilizing settings that allow us to print the first round of prototypes as quickly as possible. Once the PLA prototype was in the student’s hands, they quickly realized that changes needed to be made to some of the pieces connecting the frame together. Revisions were completed to the initial 3D design, then the object was reprinted. This prototyping “cycle” of print-revise-reprint took place multiple times in order to obtain a functional prototype that could fulfill the requirements of this project. 

Finishing Up The Design

Moving On to Engineering Material Selection

Once the final PLA prototype was produced, the project moved into the material selection stage. The group discussed the purposes of the objects that were being printed in order to best meet the goals of the project. With METHOD X, there is a diversity of material options to choose from such as PLA, ABS, TOUGH, Nylon, Nylon Carbon Fiber, among many others. Factors such as strength, weight, rigidity, and durability were all considered when choosing a filament to create the final object. 

Material factors we considered:

> Strength
> Weight
> Rigidity
> Durability
> Friction

Water Soluble Supports
Using Nylon Carbon Fiber

Students printing their prototypes with different materials with quick-print settings can allow students to have a better idea of what material would be ideal for the final product. Switching the print material is easy and can be done by either myself or my students with only a few minutes of downtime.

For our wheeled vehicle, rigidity and durability were the primary important factors; while weight needed to be taken into account as a secondary factor. Although a variety of print materials could fulfill these requirements, students were able to narrow down their decision to either Tough PLA or the Nylon Carbon Fiber composite.

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Why We Use Nylon Carbon Fiber

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For our design purposes, we found that the MakerBot Nylon Carbon Fiber filament offered the greatest balance of strength, weight, and rigidity for our chassis’ connecting pieces. Our final functional prototype was printed with high-quality print settings with high infill percentages. This complex design had dissolvable support material that was easily processed to remove. 

Once processed, all parts of the chassis were assembled by students. Due to the accuracy of the printed parts and dissolvable support material, assembly of these pieces was seamless and easy. It is typical that there might be further revisions after this object has been implemented in order to diagnose design issues that only arise after usage and stress. With the addition of bearings and wheels, this wheeled vehicle was now ready for use! 

Why METHOD X is the Next Step Up

The METHOD X platform allows us to quickly prototype, refine, and design production-quality objects. Massive flexibility in printable filaments and supports meets the needs of anything students design, even if the object is extremely complex. Changing from prototyping material to engineering material is a simple process that only requires swapping the spool and extruder. 

METHOD X streamlines this process by automatically identifying both the different materials and their compatible extruders. This platform is constantly expanding through newly available filaments, which is constantly increasing the value of this printer. METHOD X is becoming one of the most important and valuable tools that our program has implemented and we are looking forward to how this printer will continue to improve as new materials become available.

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