Sterling HeightsAugust 21, 2013
UCS teachers assemble 3-D printer
By Eric Czarnik
C & G Staff Writer
STERLING HEIGHTS — A Michigan Technological University program aimed at acquainting teachers with 3-D printing technology proved that if you build it, they will come. Then they will build some more.
Utica Community Schools teachers Geoffrey Clark and Mike Attan joined other Michigan teachers in Houghton in July to assemble their own open-source RepRap 3-D printers out of existing parts. The teachers were allowed to take their machines back to their home schools.
Clark, a math teacher at the Utica Center for Science and Industry, said he remembers seeing the box of parts that he and Attan used to build the machine.
“We assembled it in about two days,” Clark said. “We were printing our parts on the third day.”
Clark explained that a 3-D printer receives a computer rendering of an object that is composed on 3-D modeling software. That printer then uses that information to inject plastic into thin layers that are built up to form a solid object.
The RepRap Project is an open design system that encourages people to make their own 3-D printers. Clark and Attan’s 3-D printer is hardly as complex as an industrial-scale machine — theirs is only worth an estimated $800. According to the teachers, their device can create objects within the size of approximately 200 mm in each dimension.
Attan, a programming and chemistry teacher at the Utica Center for Mathematics, Science and Technology, explained that RepRap stands for replicating rapid prototyper.
One of the device’s most interesting features is that it can print off many of the parts that could be used to build a replica of itself.
“The rest of the pieces are fairly standard things,” he explained. “The bearings that it uses are standard things that are used in skateboards.”
Attan said he looks forward to developing a 3-D printing lab where the students actually build the printers themselves. He also said he plans to use 3-D printing to help students visualize chemical structures, such as molecules.
“When I looked at this initially, I was geeked because I coach a robotics team,” he said.
“There’s the whole maker movement where people are getting back to building things and making things and creating things. … It opens up this avenue of creativity that wasn’t available to everyone.”
It wasn’t long before Attan and Clark used their 3-D printer to begin churning out unique parts and objects. For instance, the teachers successfully built a microprocessor case for a Raspberry Pi mini-computer.
Clark said the UCS school district already owned a 3-D printer, but he had never used it before. He said it wouldn’t take much work to get even junior high drafting students to design an object on 3-D modeling software and then print it out.
“In my mind,” he said, “it’s going to be any kids that can follow instructions to assemble one and use one. If you go 10 years down the road, you’ll start seeing them come into everyone’s house.”
The Michigan Tech “innovative additive manufacturing” 3-D printer camp was coordinated by the High School Enterprise program. It was made possible through the financial support of the Square One Education Network.
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