Sunday, May 11, 2014

Tech: 3D Printer: Makerbot Replicator 5th Generation

The library now has a 3D printer! It is the Makerbot Replicator 5th Generation; you can find out more about it here. This is not the first 3D printer for our school, but it is the first 3D printer for the library. I am unsure how many of you are familiar with, or have had experience with, a 3D printer. I had never had the opportunity to use or see a 3D printer, until I found out we were getting one. Before the printer arrived I took a day long workshop put on by Fabricastl, they are located in the San Francisco Bay Area. If you live close I highly recommend it. I learned about the 3D modeling program Sketchup by Google (you can download it for free). They gave a short lesson on how to use the basics of Sketchup, which I found very useful. Our school will be using Sketchup and Solidworks as our 3D modeling programs.  They also taught me a lot about the website Thingiverse which is an amazing resource for students. Thingiverse is a site that has pre-created 3d designs; you can easily print within minutes and they are free. Some of the files are even customizable. 

The Makerbot Replicator 5th Generation is amazing! When the printer first arrived the printer needed to have the build plate calibrated. Since the first time it was calibrated, it has never had to be manually calibrated. Once you tell it to print it goes through a process and it says it is "calibrating the build plate," but it never asks you to manually twist the knobs. It does it all on it's own (from what I have heard of the older printers you have to calibrate them yourself).
The printer has a built in camera where you can take photos of your work as it prints. We have found this to be difficult since the build plate sits so high at the beginning of the print job. If you are printing something very large I think the camera would be great once the build plate gets down about midway. There is a video feed as well that allows you to watch your item printing from your computer.
We went ahead and ordered multiple colors of filament for the printer. We have a clear/white, solid black, solid yellow, solid green, iridescent orange and iridescent purple.
With the new Makerbot program you do not have to export the Sketchup file to a separate program to prepare it to print. You just need it in stl format and then you can upload it to the Makerbot program. It allows you to place it on the build plate shown on the screen. You can resize it, chose the infill, chose whether you want to print it fine or regular, plus many more features. Makerbot automatically adds supports so you never have to worry about that.
You can do a multicolored print as well. All you have to do is pause the print job, unload the filament, reload the new color and press resume. I have noticed that changing colors works best on items that are thicker, the colors don't stick together if there is only a skinny surface and can easily be broken off of each other. For example: I printed this four layer bracelet: clear, black, clear, black, The first clear layer broke off, along with the initial supports.
I printed a "diamond ring" in two parts, each solid colors and that turned out great!

This has been so much fun to work with and the students are being so creative. Here are some pictures of what has been printed so far:

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