Printing the future: school acquires new 3D printer

By Abbey Rodjom

NRHS Industrial Arts 3D Printer

NRHS Industrial Arts 3D Printer

Cutting-edge technology is being used in the tech ed and engineering classes at NRHS. A handful of classes have begun to learn about revolutionary 3D printers and the creative manufacturing skills that go into operating it.

3D printers have the ability to build solid objects, like cubes and other more complex three-dimensional figures. “It’s just a big, great math equation,” said Mr. Rhodes, the tech ed teacher who worked to get the grant used to purchase the high school’s 3D printer. “3D printers map lines off of the X-Y-Z coordinate plane,” he said, and this allows for precise movement in the printing space.

Printers use spools of plastic wire, costing upwards of $20 per

Products of the printer

Products of the printer

spool and also come in different colors. The machine melts and lays down layers of this plastic to create durable models of nearly anything. “We get a bang for our buck with the spools because the layers are so thin,” said Rhodes.

The layers are just microns thick, but Rhodes compared the layer width to about 1 millimeter. You can see these lines on the outside of the project as small ridges. The higher quality printer that creates a piece, the smoother the end product becomes. There are also different types of 3D printers that work with metal or even biological creations. Recently, scientists working on new technology for 3D printers produced a human ear and functioning human kidney with biological 3D printers. High quality and different types of printers can cost an exorbitant amount of money. The printer, called the Rapid Bot 3, that Mr. Rhodes and Mr. Byrum purchased is in the lower price range and cost about $850. “I think shipping was the worst part, though,” said Rhodes about the $250 shipping cost.

But what can a 3D printer do? “You can run a million different things,” said  Rhodes. Some examples of projects already printed include: a small train with moveable wheels, a small fan for keeping the printer cool (one can actually print improvements for the 3D printer with the 3D printer, and some have the capability of printing another complete 3D printer!), a Star Trek insignia, gears, USB caps, and other miscellaneous items. Four classes here at the high school utilize the 3D printer, including Intro to Engineering Design, Intro to Tech Ed, Metalworking, and Intro to Mechanical Drawing. Mr. Byrum said that learning to use the printer allows kids to take “pride in a craft” and Mr. Rhodes added to this idea by saying that “using the printer teaches kids design principles, basic engineering concepts, math skills and problem solving – all that cool stuff.”

The 3D printer is a prime example of how tech ed classes allow students to become familiar with unique and expensive equipment. Learning about technology like 3D printing and other workshop skills can also be time-consuming once a student leaves the high school, so Mr. Rhodes believes that a tech ed class is an important hands-on learning experience.

“I think in your lifetime … 3D printers will become prevalent in the home. It’s like a CD player: the laser was invented in the 50’s, but we didn’t find much use for them until the 80’s, said Rhodes. “One day, you’ll want a comb for your hair, or need a part to fix your refrigerator and all you’ll have to do is go online, buy (or make) the drawing, and print the part.”

To see a time-lapsed video of the Star Trek insignia being printed, click here: