Printing your own printer parts
With a background in fitting machining and being involved with the development of automated machinery before becoming a teacher, New Plymouth Boys High’s Michael Parker has always been intrigued by 3D Printing and its possibilities. He’s more than passed that interest on to his students.
Year 13 students are currently going through the process of designing and building their own 3d printers. They are using 3d printing to not only help them develop their designs but also to produce the parts they need to build their printers.
And the inspiration for the project is clear where it comes from. After building his own delta printer last year Mr Parker found that, although challenging, the project was well within reach of most senior students within the school.
“I thought that this would be an excellent project for students who are interested in engineering as they would learn a lot from building the printer and additionally have a great tool available to use while either at trade school or university,” he says.
The printers the boys are building are based on the Rostock Delta printer which uses triangulation to place the print head at the correct coordinates. This is cheaper and relatively easier to build than a Cartesian printer, explains Mr Parker.
“The main parts are built from downloadable STL files which have been printed on another 3d printed printer and the schools cubify printer.”
Where 3d printing comes into its own is when the students are developing their own ideas. As part of the project they have to design the hot end (which is machined out of aluminium and is the main part of the printer that melts the plastic for printing) and the hot end holder and a range of fittings and brackets (which will be 3d printed).
After researching concepts and modelling in Solid Edge (Solid Edge has a free student edition available) their ideas are printed. Once printed, mistakes and changes that are needed become obvious. Changes then be made relatively easily without a huge waste of materials and time.
The ability to be able to easily make then hold, look at, trial fit, show others and discuss their designs is very powerful in helping to inform their decisions about their designs says Mr Parker.
“Our Year 12 students build a small mini bike in which they have to design triple clamps which hold their forks in place. We used to make these using hand tools and a mill which took weeks to finish. This whole process has become efficient and seamless thanks to 3D printing. Now we can design a model in Solid Edge, use this model to print a prototype, see what changes are needed, make those changes and then send the file away to be water cut from aluminium plate,” he adds.
This gives students a very real experience of product development.
The whole design to final product process has become more seamless over the years. Having access to 3d modelling software and reasonably cheap CNC manufacturing capability such as what 3D printers can provide, gives students exposure to what manufacturing environments are like in industry today and in the future.