• James Armstrong

Maclean Public School STEAM Workshop


I returned to Maclean Public School in February 2016 to complete two workshops held on consecutive weekends, with the first held on the 13th February 2016.

We built a 3D printer! Here is the finished machine.

The printer we built is a 3D printer design of the RepRap series of machines, specifically the "Kossel Mini". Rapid Replication (RepRap) machines are the most popular variants of 3D printers. Affordable, highly educational and produced from simple and common components. Read http://reprap.org/wiki/RepRap_history for more information on the Do-It-Yourself RepRap series of 3D printers.

The Kossel Mini was designed by Johann C. Rocholl, and is named after Albrecht Kossel (A Nobel Prize winning French Biochemist). The design is open-source, meaning all information regarding the machine is free and open for anyone to utilise under the licensing that supports Open Source Design. This makes them easy to understand and learn about using the content freely available on the internet regarding their design. Check out http://reprap.org/wiki/Kossel for a detailed overview of the Kossel Mini Design. Or even search "Kossel Mini" with Google or Youtube and sift through the countless pages of information.

The Kossel Mini is what one would call a "Delta" 3D printer. It has this name due to the mathematical modelling that the machine controller utilises for the printer to do it's thing (printing in three dimensions!). If you really love maths, and you really love learning - Search Google for "Delta Kinematics" or "Delta Robot". You'll find lots of information on their design, their use (e.g. manufacturing lines) and how they work. Perhaps even how Pythagoras Theorem plays a role in the machines function.

These machines are great for this workshop. We learnt functions of math and how it relates to something physical like design and manufacturing. We learnt about basic (and complex) electronics, materials and their attributes, how a computer interacts with other computers, how to program a microcontroller and most importantly how to find information and use tools to enable ourselves to conquer any task. The students were thrown into the deep end!

I was amazed at the curiosity and the intuition the students showed during the workshops. We started with a big brown cardboard box with a flat-packed 3D printer kit within and ended up with a completed machine at the end of the two workshops.

I brought with me an already built 3D printer to show the students how one operates and uses the machine to produce a part with it. The printer was the identical kit, though in completed form. We used this as our instruction manual as well. During our 2 hour lesson we managed to print two new parts for our printer kit.

The students were able to walk up to the finished printer kit, look at the part they were trying to assemble and then return to their seats to start building and putting their parts together. Due to the nature of the kit, we were able to delegate tasks to individuals and small groups. While the plastic filament extrusion drive and the hotend/end effector arrangement were assembled by different students, others were assembling the frame and the electronics. We powered through the tasks.

I was (and still am) so happy and impressed with the energy and efforts the students showed at the workshop. They had very little experience with this type of equipment, and within minutes we had an assembly line busily working away. The students were telling me wonderful ideas of of how to improve the 3D printer and what they would make with it. This was as they crafted the kit into a working machine. As they carried out their tasks they intuitively recognised why "this attached to that" and why "this screwed into there" and creatively thought of different and better ways to do it.

The machine will be located at the school for the students to use in the future. I'm sure they will benefit from it. 3D printing and digital design is an exciting industry still very much in its infancy. Enabling young people to better grasp this technology will surely benefit them positively in the future.

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