Have you ever done the Marshmallow Challenge? Chances are you’ve done something similar at school, or if you’ve ever been to a team building workshop it’s a pretty popular creative exercise. Basically teams must build the tallest freestanding structure they can in 18 minutes using 20 sticks of spaghetti, a yard of tape, a yard of string and 1 marshmallow on top. Tom Wujec has been running these challenges for many years and presented a great TED talk if you want to find out more about the challenge and what can be learned from it.
Well now I’ve put my 3D printing twist onto the challenge, running what turned into a very competitive series of workshops for the Intro to 3D Printing course at my university. Teams were given a selection of materials we had readily available for model making (20 paddlepop sticks, 1 paper plate, 2 paper cups, a few drinking straws, a length of masking tape and a length of string) and given a very simple brief – build the tallest freestanding structure possible during the 2 hour workshop. The catch:
Now that makes things interesting! These are first year students only new to CAD and 3D printing, so what can they both design and print in such a limited time? Do you print lots of small things, or 1 big thing? How can you tweak the 3D print settings to get things printed as quickly as possible? What do you do when your print doesn’t work? It turns out that this challenge can teach you a lot about 3D printing, and how to rapidly test, prototype and build without wasting any time like in the normal 6 week projects.
As you can see from the photos, the results are very impressive! The winning team built a structure up to 249cm, which basically meant they used all the materials end-to-end and could not go much higher even if they had more time. This team 3D printed small little rectangular connectors for the paddlepop sticks, and with a lot of delicate balancing, managed to get their structure stable at the very last second. Much much higher than I expected when I set this challenge! They were in a very close battle with the team that came second for the day, reaching 238cm with a slightly different connection method where they used 3D printing to connect the paddlepop sticks to the cups. What you might notice with the top 3 teams is that 3D printing was used for small connecting elements that could be quickly printed, whereas some of the other teams (eg. 4th place who I only have a photo of part of the structure) were 3D printing much larger bases and simply ran out of time to push their structures quite as high.
All of the students were very involved and motivated by this task, it’s something I will run again in future classes and 3D printing workshops as a way to push the limits of the 3D printers and break them out of being so precious about what comes off the printers. It also gets them thinking about how to combine 3D printing with other methods of prototyping, you don’t necessarily need to 3D print every part of your design as it’s quite a slow process, particularly for FDM machines. Feel free to make your own twists on this challenge in the classroom, and I’d love to see your results! Maybe the 3D Printed Marshmallow Challenge will be the next big thing?
– Posted by James Novak