What is 3D printing?
3D printing is Additive Rapid Prototyping. There are a number of different technologies around, and many different materials including metals (and even concrete!) can be ‘printed’ commercially. Most 3D printers for schools use plastics, and the Fuse Deposition Modelling (FDM) process, which involves many thin layers of plastic building up the desired shape. 3D printing has been around for many years in professional design (and production) environments, but a new era of lower cost machines means that they are now available to schools - without breaking the bank.
How does it work?
Students start with a 3D solid model, created in software such as SOLIDWORKS Education Edition. The file is saved in ‘STL’ format and loaded into the post-processing software supplied with the 3D printer. The user chooses settings (eg., build quality, speed, model placement). The software then ‘slices’ the 3D model into a stack of multiple tool paths, and sends the print job to the machine. Appropriate filament is loaded and the printing process begins. The process is fascinating to watch, as molten plastic is extruded from the 3D printer tip as it moves around, creating the shape of each layer, one after another. When complete, the model is removed from the machine. It really is that simple!
Why Does My School Need One?
3D CAD is essential in modern D&T, and sooner or later, students will need to turn their creative ideas into real parts for projects. The low cost and setup time make the technology ideal to promote the iterative design process that the curriculum demands. It is important for students to learn that getting it wrong is not a mistake, rather it is a step towards getting it right.
Which Machine Should I Choose?
There are a number of basic variables such as cost, material types and build envelope to take into consideration, and many of our machines have their own unique features and specifications - we have options to suit requirements at all levels. ‘Support’ is required for models with overhangs, and depending which model you choose this can either be removed with hand-tools, or a secondary soluble material can be printed and soaked away later on. The professional machines in our range from Stratasys offer levels of accuracy, repeatability, and reliability in specialist ABS plastics that simply isn’t possible with lower-end machines. Of course, this is reflected in the price, but these machines will sit quietly in the corner of a busy college or university design department, producing flawless models 24 hours a day with a minimum of maintenance.
What else do I need?
If you don’t already have a 3D solid modelling package, SOLIDWORKS
is the ideal partner for your 3D printer.
Is a 3D printer all I will need then?
A 3D printer is an important part of the range of key equipment necessary to successfully deliver today’s D&T curriculum, but other 3D rapid prototyping technologies should not be forgotten. Whilst the range of material options are increasing, at a school level 3D printing is limited to certain types of plastics. In situations where a specific material is required, Subtractive Rapid Prototyping may be required (see our range of 3D capable millers & routers
The TechSoft Advantage
The market for 3D printers is (quite frankly) a mine-field, but our experience allows us to carefully select the models most appropriate for the classroom environment. TechSoft are proud of our reputation for excellent customer service, and person-to-person contact is an important feature of this. We will be your first point of contact for materials, consumables, and advice, and you will have unlimited access to technical support via phone or email.