As I am layout out examples to use in my upcoming book, 3D Printing for Dummies, I realized that many of our lessons learned from STEMulate Learning/SOLID Learning workshops might be useful for readers interested in setting up their own events and workshops.
One of the best uses of 3D Printers is to develop interest in kids, whether that is in educational settings, at maker fairs, or within exhibits at museums, libraries or makerspaces. Although electronics like Arduinos and Raspberry Pis bring things to life, the 3D printer creates the things that will be enabled using these remarkable systems. Children delight at watching the liquid plastic as it is deposited layer upon layer, watching as a flat build plate is filled with a design that wasn’t there before!
The biggest problem with current 3D printing technologies that are affordable by programs like these is that they are slow – 3d printing a small object like this small kitten takes several minutes each, and although complexity only adds time as more material is integrated into the design, making anything that is bigger than a thimble may take too long to stay interesting for younger visitors and participants.
One simple solution to this problem is to pre-print a bunch of the demonstration object so that each child can take one home, and then demonstrate the creation of one across an afternoon’s workshops – scanning an object, creating and customizing the design, and then printing out the final result so that the kids can see it created.
Make sure your sample object is free of pointy bits, printed large enough to not pose a choking hazard, and definitely printed of non-toxic materials – ABS is what LEGOs are made of, so that and PLA are commonly used to avoid materials hazards not already present in children’s toys. Objects printed for smaller children should avoid moving parts to prevent pinched fingers and hair being caught in the mechanism.
Another concern is children’s proximity to the heated build plate, to the extruder hot end, and to chemicals such as acetone that are used to prepare the build plate between prints. Care should be taken to allow young children to look without interacting while these hazards are present. Eventually, melted plastic extrusion may give way to cooler ink-jet modeling systems, but for now it is important to take precautions against accidental contact to avoid burned fingers or irate parents at your programs.
Make sure that your sponsoring agency is okay with integrating a 3D printer into their demonstrations, and fill our a risk assessment form to make sure you have taken care of administrative requirements up front and well before any incidents occur.
The kitten used here is a copy of Thing #12694 at Thingiverse, shared by MBCook from an original model provided on AIM@Shape. I printed them using 2 shells, no infill, .2mm height, and no external supports in both ABS (220/80C) using KAPLON tape and PLA (160/60C) using blue painter’s tape.