3D Printing Education Book

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As many readers will know, this blog came about when I started my post-graduate studies at university focusing on 3D printing. My knowledge allowed me to get into lecturing, and part of this role has allowed me to run workshops for the community, including school teachers, secondary students, and the broader public. It turns out these experiences have taught me a thing or two about running 3D printing workshops in short time-frames, often with people who have never seen a 3D printer in action, and has lead to me publishing a chapter in a book detailing how I organise a one-day 3D printing workshop.

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The book is called Interdisciplinary and International Perspectives on 3D Printing in Education, and includes 14 chapters from leaders around the world on the topic of 3D printing in education. My particular chapter is called Re-Educating the Educators: Collaborative 3D Printing Education, and calls attention to some of the many real challenges that plague teachers who are attempting to adopt 3D printing in the classroom.Β The chapter starts with a summary of how Australian schools are adopting the technology, and moves on to new research and peer-reviewed literature about how short, intensive courses are helpful in offering teachers meaningful training in regards to 3D printing. The later section of the chapter provides the organisational structure and hands-on activities I use in my workshops, and is hopefully useful to many other people who are running training programs for teachers and others interested in 3D printing.

A big thank you to Sarah Saunders at 3dprint.com for writing a great article about my research which you can read here. The article provides a nice summary of the book which I hope will help it reach a wide audience, as there is not enough material available for teachers, curriculum planners and education researchers wrestling to bring 3D printing and other technologies into the classroom. This book at least goes some way to presenting the latest research ideas and data to fill this gap.

Please help spread the word to anyone who may benefit from this book on 3D printing in education, and use my 50% discount code “IGI50” to purchase the whole book, or just my chapter, at a generous discount πŸ™‚

– Posted by James Novak

First 3D Print with the Wanhao Duplicator D9/500

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If you have followed my blog for any length of time, you’ve probably noticed I’m quite a big fan of the Wanhao 3D printers – they’re cheap, reliable, upgradable, and just good value for money. Even my Cocoon Create from Aldi is actually just a Wanhao in disguise! Recently Wanhao released the Duplicator D9/500, which has an incredible 500x500x500mm build volume. Yes, you read that right, those numbers are not a typo! The picture above doesn’t do it justice, this is a big unit that currently we can only store and run on the floor until we can free up a large desk. Manoeuvring this thing is definitely a 2 person job!

Before I get into the details of the machine and my first experiences, the printed vase pictured above is the first successful print, which is the Curved Honeycomb VaseΒ (free on Thingiverse) printed at 200% scale. Printed in vase mode (aka “spiralise” in Cura) with a 0.8mm nozzle, this print took approximately 6 hours to complete. A great design in itself, and very cool at this large size.

However, it certainly hasn’t all been smooth sailing with this printer. First, there were some lengthy delays from Wanhao between when we placed the order and finally received the machine – apparently some manufacturing and quality control issues, and Wanhao may have released the machine a bit too early to market. In total we waited several months, however, they may be much faster now that issues seem to be resolved. The second big issue we faced was assembly – the supplied instructions weren’t particularly useful or even relevant, with some of the components no longer supplied with the printer – it seems that the initial release included large brackets to help stabilise the frame and some other details in the instructions, so we were left feeling like we were missing some parts. Apparently we are not, although we still haven’t figured out some of the cable management issues and have had to hack together a temporary solution for now.

Another challenge with assembly was in constructing the frame; obviously at such a large size the frame wasn’t pre-assembled like the smaller Duplicator 3, and the frame also uses extruded aluminium rather than folded sheet metal. Squaring all of these extrusions is not simple, and some initial issues when running the machine were related to having one of the vertical frame pieces lightly twisted. Some better alignment details are definitely needed.

The final issue that we’ve been experiencing is in the auto-levelling sensor, which was not installed at the correct height in the factory and required a lot of manual adjustment (we had the nozzle collide with the bed several times when first running it). However, even with this, the machine doesn’t really seem to adjust the prints for any levelling issues; our first prints across the bed revealed a number of areas where the bed was slightly warped, which were not being corrected by the auto-level feature, so we are currently manually doing adjustments for now. And we have found the central area of the bed is OK, so the vase printed really well.

So overall I would have to recommend that anyone considering this printer hold off for at least a few more months, there are just too many issues for anyone without a lot of experience calibrating 3D printers, and without the time to really get in and troubleshoot issues. Last time I searched on YouTube it seems others have also come to a similar conclusion. I think with time this will be a great 3D printer, we’re certainly going to keep learning more about it, but this seems like a case of a manufacturer rushing to market without properly testing and perfecting their equipment. Unfortunately, an all too common story in the 3D printing world.

Make sure you follow my blog and social media accounts to keep up to date with ongoing test prints and posts about the Wanhao Duplicator D9/500. And please share your own experiences in the comments section so we can all learn from each other πŸ™‚

– Posted by James Novak

*UPDATE 14/1/2019 Recently I have updated the firmware of the printer to see if that would improve performance of the machine. I recommend this as a priority for anyone with a D9, it could fix some of the issues you may be experiencing as there are probably several different versions of firmware out there now depending when you purchased your printer. While I haven’t noticed a difference with the levelling issues, it’s always worth running the latest firmware to fix any other potential issues. This video tutorial is excellent, I followed it exactly and managed to update both the LCD display and motherboard to version 0.164(B).

For now I’ve manually adjusted the levelling sensor so that in some areas the nozzle is lower than it should be, pushing into the print surface. This makes other areas of the warped plate the correct height, and after a few layers seems to level things off and be printing OK. Not great, but working for now.

Tiko Down and Out?

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Unfortunately it looks like this image of the Tiko 3D Printer is as close as I’ll ever get to one – after months of speculation by fellow Kickstarter supporters, and a recent article by 3dprint.com which explained some of the problems that have plagued the company since their massive Kickstarter success in 2015, the Tiko team have sent an email update to backers that sounds ominous:

“Basically, the company is now on standby while we pursue ways to get back on track… We made countless mistakes, and we are now in a tough place, but it doesn’t mean that everything we built is suddenly worthless.”

It sounds like there may still be a glimmer of hope that investors may see the potential in Tiko and jump in to save the day, but given my previous experience with the failure of Solidoodle after the Press 3D printer, I’m not holding my breath. A few batches of Tiko’s did make it to the US and Canada, however online reports seem to suggest that the hardware and software hasn’t really lived up to expectations, being released out of desperation to get some products out there without being fully tested. A real shame, this was a Kickstarter campaign I was really excited about and the journey started off so well.

Maybe I’m just cursed? This is now the second printer/company that I’ve supported that has hit major troubles. Which means that I think I’m throwing in the towel with crowdfunding 3D printers – there are just too many risks and challenges, and there are so many options already available and sitting on shelves that the risk hardly seems worth it to save a few dollars with a startup. Given how well my Cocoon Create 3D printer has been going over the past year, bought for only $399 AUD from Aldi, I really can’t see the point. In the time Tiko has been struggling to produce 1 printer, Cocoon Create has supplied 1 very successful printer (read my review here), and looks poised to release the next generation machine any day.

That’s the other problem with these sorts of crowdfunded technologies – in the time that it takes to develop and manufacture them, the more established companies and new startups have already brought out ever newer machines that are superior to the technology a year or two ago, even superior to technology only a matter of months ago. The pace of change in 3D printing is extremely quick, and if you get caught for too long in development, what you’re developing will likely be out of date before it even leaves the factory.

Obviously I’m a huge fan of crowdfunding, having just wrapped up a successful Kickstarter project using the old Solidoodle Press as a plotter, but I now have a very big question mark about funding anything as complex as a 3D printer. I really do hope the Tiko team can negotiate their little hearts out and find some sort of a way to move forward. I would love nothing more than to one day have a Tiko on my workbench, and be running it side-by-side with my other printers and writing some reviews for you all. I’m just not holding my breath…

– Posted by James Novak

3D Printing Workshops Galore

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University and school might be winding down for the year, but I’ve been as busy as ever running workshops on 3D printing and attending conferences – the silly season indeed!

I was a mentor at an event called GLO@Logan, a 3-day startup style workshop for teams of year 9 students from high school’s around the Logan area of Queensland. The project briefs looked at the future of health care, and how technology can be used to better enable people suffering from debilitating disease or age-related problems. A huge congratulations to the team from Loganlea State High School (top right image) who won first prize for their mobile app (which they actually created using MIT App Inventor) which was designed for people in wheelchairs to plan their route to restaurants, bringing in Google Street View images and reviews to help them plan their trip and locate wheelchair friendly restaurants. I was very impressed to see that within a couple of hours of the day 2 practical workshop they already had a rough prototype working on a tablet and had divided tasks nicely within their team. It’s very rare to see a group work so well or efficiently at university, so well done!

For some students like those from Flagstone State Community College, this was also their first opportunity to see a 3D printer in action – and they embraced the technology immediately. You can see their prototype in the top middle image which combines 3D printed pieces, Lego Mindstorms EV3 and a mobile phone, the idea being a robotic dog to act as a companion for elderly people including the capacity to make emergency calls should the person fall and injure themselves. Congratulations on winning second place.

I really hope to see some of these students come through the design courses at university, the ideas and prototypes of all groups were as good, if not better, than many I see from university students.

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We also ran a 3D printing workshop at the CILECT Congress 2016 (the International Association of Film and Television Schools Congress), and what really amazed me is that none of the people who attended the session had ever seen or used a 3D printer before! I really thought film and 3D printing went hand-in-hand these days, particularly when you see the work of Legacy Effects in major movies like Iron Man and Robocop which rely heavily on 3D printing. But from the feedback I think the workshop definitely opened everyone’s mind to the potential of the technology, and need for it to be brought into the education of future film makers.

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Most recently Createworld offered the opportunity to meet with educators and practitioners at the intersection of design and technology over 2 days of presentations and workshops, and this was also the first showing of the InMoov robot hand I’ve been building over the last few months (click here to check out the full development of this project). It now has a plywood stand which is great for hiding all the raw electronics. I also used my Wiiduino project from last year to showcase ideas like gamification, visual programming languages and customisation for 3D printing, alongside a few students from my Human Machine Interfaces class and fellow PhD researchers. I look forward to this event growing even bigger next year, it’s early days for this conference but the ideas and projects are very high quality.

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Lastly a sneak peek inside the new 3D printing facility at Deakin University Waurn Ponds campus, where they have everything from desktop through to metal 3D printers and everything in between. The top left image is overlooking just some of the 3D printing facility, with more equipment in other rooms including a Virtual Reality room and labs for building robotics. I was there for the DESTECH conference and was blown away by the facilities, like a kid in a toy store! There are plenty of high-profile research projects coming out of here already so watch this space.

Looking at my calendar over the last month it has been a whirlwind of events, and it’s finally time to sit back, unwind and process it all over a few (or more!) drinks in the lead up to Christmas. 2016 has shown that 3D printing continues to grow and inspire, and I’m finally seeing some positive steps within schools, although there is still a long way to go. My printer has been running pretty constantly between these events so stay tuned for some project updates very soon.

– Posted by James Novak

Cocoon Create Goes the Distance

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This week I’ve spent 48 hours printing 14 segments of my latest PhD project on my Cocoon Create 3D printer, and despite the usual hiccups like print warp and delamination of layers (they are some large pieces using ABS so it’s no surprise – stay tuned for a post on using a 3D print pen to fill gaps), the printer itself performed beautifully. With another 59 hours of printing left to go, I thought it was time to write a little update on the printer and why I think it’s probably the best value printer out there.

Firstly some clarification – the Cocoon Create is based on the open source RepRap Prusa i3, one of the most popular 3D printer designs ever. Many derivatives exist out there that all look identical, including the Wanhao Duplicator i3 Plus which I’ve seen marketed quite a lot on Ebay. The benefit of this is that there are endless supplies of spare parts and forums offering tweaks and suggestions, you just need to look further afield then the “Cocoon Create” since this is the branding for the printers sold at Aldi in Australia only as part of the promotion this year. So there’s not much of a community out there specifically for this printer. But for the general type of printer, the numbers are huge.

As you can see from the top photo, I’ve nearly printed 1km worth of filament with this printer, which I only bought in February this year during Aldi’s promotion. You can read about my first impressions here. For many years I’ve enjoyed successes with the UP range of printers (including the UP Plus 2 and UP Mini), but with the Cocoon Create proving to be just as reliable, and only 1/3 of the price of the UP Plus 2 ($499 AUD), the Cocoon Create is definitely proving to be better value for money. If you do the maths, this printer has so far cost me only $2.90 per hour of printing (+ materials and electricity of course).Β  In particular the positives I really enjoy are:

  • Rugged steel design means that there is no movement in the printer – I never have to adjust the level of the print bed. Just click print and it works every time.
  • Good print plate that the filament adheres to quite well – no need for glues or tape. I also really like using the Brim setting in Cura to help hold the prints onto the bed and really minimise warping on large prints. I wrote a post about that previously with photos showing with and without the brim setting.
  • Decent sized build platform, twice the size of the UP printers πŸ™‚ (200 x 200 x 180mm)
  • Open in every way – software and hardware. Unlike many of the printers on the market, you can see and access all of the main features of the printer. Great if anything happens and you need to replace a part. Also you can use just about any software you like for slicing models and saving out G Code. I’ve just stuck with the recommended Cura so far, it has all the settings I need. The great thing about this is that you can get right into the details of the print settings, tweaking until you get your print just right – many printers come with proprietary software, which is normally good for simple plug-n-play prints, but won’t give you full access to settings.

A few things that are still a bit annoying, because hey, it’s still only a cheap printer and can’t be perfect:

  • The print plate can’t be removed from the printer (well not easily – you would need to re-level the plate each time), meaning that you need to scrape prints off in situ. I do prefer the ability to swap plates and remove a print when I can get at it easily with some tools.
  • The user interface is extremely old-fashioned, possible a relic from the 80’s – a single dial is used to scroll through menus and make selections, and it gets a bit painful.
  • Emergency stopping a print when something goes wrong requires either cycling through a few menus (see point above), or cutting power all together which is never a great solution. Perhaps a nice red emergency stop button would fit in with the 80’s styling?
  • Running back and forth between computer and printer with a SD card can be painful – with the cheap cost of WiFi chips these days, hopefully the next version can stream directly from the computer. However most printers still suffer from some sort of physical connection or SD card. Maybe it’s just because I keep my printer in a separate room to avoid the fumes…

Those are some of the main things on my mind as I reach the halfway point of this big session of printing on the Cocoon Create – keep your eyes out in 2017 for a return of the printer to Aldi, I have it on good authority that it will be making a comeback πŸ˜‰ Follow my blog (bottom of the page) or twitter if you’re interested as I will definitely be posting the news as soon as I have details.

– Posted by James Novak

Inside 3D Printing Sydney Review

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As my brain still tries to process everything from the 2016 Inside 3D Printing Conference Sydney, I thought a bit of a review might be a good way to try and both sort out my thoughts, and share with you some of the things on show and discussed throughout the 2 day conference. This conference was shared with National Manufacturing Week, which actually makes up the bulk of the exhibitor stands in the image above – 3D printing only filled up the very right thoroughfare from the Fuji Xerox sign to the back (yes there’s a bit of a disappointed tone in my voice here).

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Above you can see the size of the 3D printing conference itself – which I have to admit was a real shock to see when I walked in on day 1 expecting at least 100 people or more. Having been to RAPID last year in Los Angeles (you can read about my experience here) I guess I just expected a lot more interest in 3D printing by now in Australia! Our slow uptake despite having a significant share of the worlds titanium, which could be used right here for 3D printing, was certainly a common theme for discussion from many speakers, as were the trends and predictions for continued worldwide growth after the latest Wohlers Report for 2016. But well done to all the Queenslanders who made the trip down, I couldn’t believe how often I would speak to someone only to find out they were from my part of the world! Perhaps Inside 3D Printing should look at running in Brisbane next time?

The good news is there were some really great speakers, one of my favourites being from keynote Paul D’Urso about his pioneering use of 3D printing in surgery over the last 20 years. What I liked most was his candid insight into the tensions between what surgeons and their patients want (for example custom-fitting implants that heal quickly and are comfortable, custom tools and guides for surgeons to provide more accurate surgery, and 3D prints from CT scans for pre-surgical analysis and practice which saves time in the operating theater) as opposed to regulatory bodies like the FDA in the United States who are getting in the way of innovations like 3D printing and basically enabling large corporations to own the monopoly on expensive standardised medical equipment. He has a great proactive attitude of just getting in and improving implants and tools himself using 3D printing, and has founded Anatomics as a way to reach out to other surgeons with the tools and products he and his team have developed. A great “just do it” message which was really motivating.

Education was also a big theme, with speakers like Ben Roberts from Modfab and Stuart Grover from 3D Printing Studios sharing their experiences around educating children and the general public about 3D printing through various training programs and initiatives here in Australia. However it seems that there is still far too little being done to educate people about 3D printing, and indeed many other emerging technologies, and perhaps the low attendance at this conference is evidence of how far we have yet to go when compared with the same Inside 3D Printing conferences around the world which seem to generate very high numbers of attendance. A re-work of high school curriculum’s was a well received solution at the conference, with traditional wood-work and metal-work style classes needing to be reinvigorated with digital technologies to provide appropriate high-value skills to students due to the rapidly changing nature of jobs, with reports suggesting that by the year 2020 5 million jobs will be made redundant due to robotics and automation. One of the hurdles argued by Ben Roberts was that most teachers either don’t have the skills to teach CAD and 3D printing, or learned them 5 or more years ago and are now outdated. As someone very keen to help enable the next generation of designers through my regular training programs and visits to schools, along with being a part of the Advance Queensland scheme, I think this is an extremely important issue to tackle right now. Anyway, on to some of the fun things.

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Just like with RAPID, perhaps my favourite part of these conferences is the exhibition space – you never know what you’re going to see! Above on the left is the 3D printed jet engine from Monash University, Deakin University and Lab 22 (part of the CSIRO) which you may have seen in the media already. A lot of complexity with multiple 3D printing methods and materials used for the various parts, I just wish it was a working model! In the middle is a full-colour 3D printed hand, almost exactly the same size as mine. What’s unique about this print is that not only was it printed in 1 go, but that the outer “skin” material is soft and squishy like skin! This is a brand new printer from Fuji Xerox capable of printing with 5 material cartridges at once, and there is huge potential for this to create simulation models for training surgeons, or realistic copies of organs or tumors for surgeons to actually practice on prior to cutting open their patient. Lastly was a highly detailed SLS print of feathers as a fabric-like material at the 3D Printing Systems stand – just something a little more unusual compared to all the usual prints everyone normally displays.

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Lastly just a few things that caught my eye throughout the other exhibits – on the left is one of the robotics displays for automating tasks like pick ‘n’ place – I think I could have a lot of fun with one of these next to my desk! In the middle was perhaps the most interesting display from my own research perspective, with CAD company PTC Creo beginning to enable Internet of Things devices to integrate into their software through the ThingWorx platform. Very much in line with my experiments using Rhino with the Grasshopper and Firefly plugins, however the addition of augmented reality is a really great touch – if you want to see a demo of their full system in action, check out their short 3 minute demo video of the bike being used in both the physical and virtual world. Lastly there were a few companies showing their CNC routers and laser cutters, some of them desktop in size – I just wish I could line them all up next to my 3D printer at home!

Overall a lot to soak up and plenty of new networks created with other attendees, I just hope next year there is an even bigger audience at the conference and even more amazing things happening.

– Posted by James Novak

Aldi 3D Printer -First Impressions

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Yes that’s right, Aldi are selling a 3D printer! For those of you not familiar with Aldi, they are essentially a global supermarket chain, and here in Australia, they also sell “special buys” each week which could be anything from power tools to clothing and everything in between. This weeks special: the Cocoon Create 3D printer for $499AUD, a bit of a bargain when you look at its’ specs. Although of course I had been skeptical, being burned by my last 3D printer purchase from Solidoodle (which you can read more about here) which I have now hacked to do other things, and still waiting for the Tiko that I funded on Kickstarter last year I had to have one… It might be sad by I actually can’t live without a 3D printer anymore with all the work I’m doing.

However what really grabbed me is that being Aldi, this printer would come with a warranty (1 year) and be easily returned if it was a dud (a real challenge when most printers are bought online and can be difficult to return), and also this printer is based on the RepRap Prusa i3 which means any replacement parts and tweaks will be easy to obtain. With some nice upgrades, particularly the metal frame (as opposed to most RepRap’s which use acrylic or plywood and can therefore be quite flexible) this really looks like a promising machine . Like anyone else serious about getting their hands on these limited weekly specials, I joined the 2 or 3 other nerds outside my local Aldi before they opened, and made the mad dash inside like a kid in a candy store! As you can see, I was successful πŸ™‚

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In the above photos you can see some of the initial finds from the package, which included a thorough manual designed to guide someone with little to no experience of setting up a 3D printer and using Cura to slice STL files through the process, a spare pad for the print bed, some tools, a small roll of PLA and a SD card to use for transferring the G-code from Cura onto the machine (there is also a USB connection, but I like the SD card which means I can have my printer in another room where the fumes can be ventilated). Setup was very quick with just a few screws to join the pieces together, and then the leveling of the bed. Let me summarise some of my initial observations and thoughts after doing a few small prints so far:

  • The navigation through the menus is a little bit old-school (reminds me of DOS!), and could benefit from a touch screen. However there are a lot of controls available in the menu, allowing you to really tweak the performance of the machine without connecting to a computer. The beeping sound as you scroll through each option is a little annoying.
  • The home screen of the printer (shown at the top) is awesome and shows some really useful information such as temperatures of both the nozzle and bed, and how much of the print has been completed.
  • Leveling of the bed is manual and easy to do with the 4 corner wingnuts. Many printers now come with auto-leveling which can be quick, but also doesn’t always seem to work as well as just leveling it out yourself.
  • At one point I wanted to stop a print part way through as it was lifting off the bed – you have to navigate through the menu to find this option, and the only other way is to switch off the power. An extra button just to pause or stop a print would be really handy for those emergency situations!
  • To remove a print you have to pry it off while fixed to the printer – you can’t just un-clip the bed and really get at it with a scraper. This may cause some problems down the line, every other printer I’ve ever used allows the bed to be removed.

These are just a few things I’m noticing right off the bat, but overall I’m really really impressed with this machine – the very first print I did worked flawlessly which you can see below.

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This SUP paddle clip (which you can read more about here) was 3D printed with the same settings I’ve used on the Up! Plus 2 printer, specifically a 0.2mm layer height and minimal support, and printed in about the same 50 minutes. I can honestly not tell the difference in quality, which is extremely clean and accurate. As I write this a second one has been printed to the same high quality. For $499 this is a much better finish than I expected!

Funnily enough a significant reason I started this blog in the first place was to share what I thought would be an enjoyable experience with the Solidoodle Press, and begin comapring it to other printers I’ve used and hopefully benefit others looking to get into 3D printing – it’s nice to finally come full circle back to writing about my experience with this (so far) promising 3D printer. Stay tuned for more frequent 3D prints, designs and discussion of how this printer performs.

– Posted by James Novak