A number of national initiatives are underway to support getting students access to maker skills and tools, including 3D printers. As schools and educators are seeking advice on what to get, it is important for them to recognize that the needs of students in a classroom are different than those of hobbyists or professional makers. Here are a few important criteria for educators to consider when evaluating 3D printers for their class:
3D printers will break, and spending more money on a printer does not necessarily mean that it will break less. Educators and school IT support staff are already stretched pretty thin; having to fix 3D printers is going to be an unwelcome burden. Get recommendations from Make:, sites like 3dhubs.com, or from your local universities, and join an #edtechchat on twitter to ask educators how often they are doing repairs on their machines.
3D printing is a form of “rapid prototyping” but you should know that this is a relative term. Even small prints can take 45 minutes or more, roughly the same length of time as a typical class. All 3D printers print relatively slowly, just make sure you don’t select one that is exceptionally slow. Stay above a print speed of 50mm/sec and you should be good.
3. Print Quality
Resolution is not as important as you might think when it comes to 3D printing with youth. Kids are amazed by the simple fact that their digital creations are becoming physical realities. They don’t care about the difference between 200 microns and 300 microns.
The price of 3D printers has come down dramatically, and price does not necessarily reflect quality with these machines, so you will find a lot of options to fit almost any budget. Make sure you take into account any proprietary filament costs, which are usually higher than standard filament.
The urge is to get the biggest printer you can afford, but fight that feeling for your classroom. The larger the print bed, the bigger your youth are going to want to print, which means the longer it is going to take. Spend some time using a smaller 3D printer, then feel free to get a larger printer to reward youth who have exceptional interest and prototypes.
The more 3D printers you have, the more students can use them and the more spares you will have when something breaks down. My biggest recommendation is to favor quantity over quality when using 3D printers with youth. Staying with the same model will also ensure that you can have spare parts and that you don’t need to learn multiple workflows.