GRANGEVILLE — Twenty or even 10 years back, three-dimensional printing may have seemed like the subject of science fiction novels. Grey’s Anatomy fans may have seen medical implements made on a 3D printer on the show at the Seattle Grace Hospital in recent years. That type of printing is no longer simply a fantasy.
Grangeville High School made a giant leap into the 21st century recently with the acquisition of the MakerBot Replicator Desktop 3D printer.
Bruce Wassmuth’s graphic design and technology students participated in a pilot program where they worked on SolidWorks — solid modeling computer-aided design (CAD) software. This is widely used in local manufacturing businesses including at Gem Chain Bar/Aquajet in Grangeville, HillCo in Nezperce, Militec in Cottonwood and ATK in Lewiston.
The software is expensive and has been provided in part by a grant through Lewis-Clark State College. However, the software only provided the first step in the process.
“It was great for the kids to be able to build something on the computer and look at it in three dimensions,” said teacher Bruce Wassmuth. “But then that was it. The activity stopped there and you went on to designing another project … that you could look at on the computer.”
What was missing, Wassmuth knew, was the hands-on tactile part of the course that would allow students to not only see but also touch their designs.
“We’re really fortunate to have the principal and superintendent on board with this and understanding what we want to do and why it’s important,” Wassmuth said. That all led to the purchase of the 3D printer.
“We want to be able to do everything to give our kids the hands-on skills to either go on to further study or to go from high school to work,” principal Steve Higgins said. “This is an excellent step in the right direction and it only works because we have an invested community, kids and teacher.”
While the printer may seem daunting at first to the average person, for the kids it was like opening a birthday present.
“They had it out of the box, up and running and troubleshooting practically before I got into the room,” Wassmuth laughed. “I have been participating in continuing education on SolidWorks and the printing, but I really learn the most from the kids who pick up on it so fast and teach me things every day.”
The printer, Wassmuth explained, starts from nothing and builds.
“It’s not like you give it a chunk of wood and it takes material away – it starts with the computer design and builds from the ground up,” he said.
Students build their design in SolidWorks where they have precise measurements and can complete stress and hydraulic tests, and then print their creation at the 3D station.
The printer uses spools of plastic-like filament on a spool that is heated to more than 215 degrees celcius and cools as it goes. The substance is actually called PLA and looks similar to a spool of weed-eater line.
“Amazingly, the setup costs a lot less than you would think – around $900 for the printer and another $300 or so for the box of filament,” Wassmuth said, showing a box of different-colored spools.
And the result for the kids?
“I designed this cup,” senior Taylor Wilkins showed a light, blue mug inscribed with her name. “It took 13 hours to print.” It is the largest item the students have thus far printed.
Junior Zach Stinnett had a more specific item to print. He purchased a small drone with a camera. The plastic form was “cheap,” he said.
He programmed in the drone design and was able to replicate the frame – though not without some troubleshooting.
“The first time I printed the frame, it was standing in its end and it wasn’t able to print the right way and be strong,” he explained, showing his first attempt. “Then I turned it and it came out great.” That printing took a little more than two hours.
Seniors Travis Goehring and Garrett Kennedy watched the printing of a bolt with interest and conversation about how the design would work and in the way it printed.
“It really makes you think more about how what you design will work, how it will function,” Kennedy said.
Both Goehring and Kennedy plan to study mechanical engineering at the University of Idaho.
“This right here is what we will be doing,” Goehring said. “Before, we could design it in the computer, which is great, but now to see it come alive is just amazing.”
Dylan VonBargen demonstrated the beginning stages of design and drawing and how the project can be saved on a thumb drive, then taken to the printer.
“I’m going to make a shift knob for my car,” he said. “It’s really cool you can make something you can actually use.”
The boys all worked on some troubleshooting with the system and now have a good idea how the printer operates.
The skills they are learning, Higgins said, are intertwined with inquiry science, geometry and other math, science and technology classes.
“It really uses the whole STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – system and reinforces the way students learn,” Higgins said.
Wassmuth said now that the kids and he have experimented with the printer and how it works, they plan to work on useful and usable projects.
“We did some things such as dice and small chains and bolts so we could experiment and see how it works,” Wassmuth said. “Now it will be more of a reward for the SolidWorks designs completed and finding a way to make things we need.”
Higgins said he welcomes a challenge for students.
“Does someone need a little plastic-like piece for something that broke? Bring it in and give these kids a chance to figure it out. I’m betting on them,” he smiled.
The printer can print approximately 10x10x10 size.
Anyone with a question on this can call the high school at 983-0580 or e-mail email@example.com.