Education Business trials 3D printing

There is a lot of focus this year on STEM in schools, with the ‘Year of Engineering’ drawing to a close. So what better time to give 3D printing a go at our Education Business office? We reviewed the Dremel DigiLab, and here’s what we thought

This year was billed by the government as the ‘Year of Engineering’ – a year-long campaign to increase awareness and understanding of what engineers do among young people, parents and teachers. It forms part of the government’s Industrial Strategy, which is committed to driving-up engineering skills across the UK.

So how can schools boost their engineering provision, and get students and teachers excited about STEM subjects?

One fun and practical way is through 3D Printing, which is a tool used in many industries, from engineering to healthcare. Introducing it to the classroom can therefore give pupils the skills they’ll need for the workplace of the future.

Designed with schools in mind

The offices at Education Business received the Dremel DigiLab 3D printer to review. It is especially designed for the school environment, in that it is easy to use, affordable, safe and comes with software created with students in mind.
Firstly, it must be said that 3D printing is highly addictive and it is immensely satisfying to see an object built from scratch.
To operate the printer, you put a reel of filament into the machine. We were using PLA (polylactic acid), which is plant-based and environmentally friendly. You thread the wires of PLA through a tube and into the heating device, where it is heated to the required temperature. You choose your design from the USB stick and then select ‘build’. Prompts on the machine are clear and tell you next steps.
Once the machine gets working, the see-through chamber allows you to watch the design take shape. It is fascinating and mesmerising watching the machine busy itself layering the PLA to build the 3D object. We ‘printed’ a vast range of objects, including frogs, coffee cups, dinosaur key rings and Christmas tree decorations.

To access pre-created 3D designs, I used Makerbot’s Thinguniverse which have designs shared by people on an upon platform. You prepare the image for ‘slicing’ – which again is easy to do – and then save the file to the machine’s memory stick.

The objects that created the most amazement from colleagues were ‘articulated’ ones. These allow for some movement by having connectors and joints built into the design.

The printer’s integrated camera means students and teachers can monitor and control multiple printers from anywhere.

Designing from scratch

Using CAD software, you can design a 3D object from scratch. Tinkercad was recommended to use, which is free to download. It allows you to create basic designs using shapes, letters, numbers and a variety of other tools.

The software has easy-to-follow lessons in the basics, such as making holes in objects, resizing, and so on.
To find out how 3D printing is being used in schools, I spoke to Paul Woodward, head of creative arts at Queen Ethelburga’s Collegiate in York, who has a Dremel Digilab. The school is using the 3D printer to realise design iterations as part of the new GCSE and A Level syllabus for Design and Technology. They are also using it to experiment with thermoforming techniques as an element of the BTEC 3D Art Crafts, where students are using the process to produce elements for art pieces or for items to sell in a gift shop.
Paul said: “Rapid prototyping allows the students to hold in their hand an object they see in their minds. Within hours they can have a physical outcome to test and to inform their next design iteration or prototype.
“The Dremel printer has been 100 per cent reliable so far and the remote camera feature allows students to see the process from other rooms and for the technician to monitor progress.”

Technology of the future

The Dremel DigiLab 3D printer can use four different types of filament that work for beginners through to more advanced users. More experienced users can use the heat-resistant Eco-ABS and advanced users can also use nylon.
Going back to its ease-of-use, the Digilab automatically recognises filament and adjusts printer settings, making it straightforward to use different types of filament.
Overall, we thoroughly enjoyed our time with the Dremel DigiLab 3D printer. It opened our eyes as to how far technology has come. We all agreed that bringing 3D printing into the classroom is a great way to bring lessons to life, spark children’s imaginations, and enable them to gain the practical skills for a technology that will no doubt play a big part in our futures.


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