High school students learn to build, operate 3D printer

Published 10:20 am Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Three Windsor High School students in Roland Downing’s Engineering II class attended a special two-day class at the Smithfield High School maker’s space alongside Smithfield students, where they learned to construct and operate a 3D printer.

The printer, known as a Jellybox, was invented by Ladislav Goc, founder of the company Imade3D, and his wife Ivana, and created specifically for educational purposes. The three Dukes who took the class were Daniel Gnieski, Nicholas DiTommaso and Zachary Dancause.

According to Heather Greer, Isle of Wight County Schools’ K-12 science and STEM coordinator, the division’s goal in having CTE students from both high schools take the class was so that they could become 3D printing experts and, at the same time, be able to provide technical support for the units once they are installed at each high school. Downing’s Engineering II classroom, as well as the classrooms for Smithfield’s Manufacturing I and II classes will each get to keep the printer its students made.

“These sophomores and juniors will serve as 3D printing ambassadors for their buildings, helping their fellow students to learn how to 3D print and fix the machines when needed,” Greer said. “The skills they gain here will help them get a job anywhere in advanced manufacturing. Almost all your major industries are adopting some kind of 3D printing so it’s a high demand skill.”

She added that the printers arrived on Monday completely disassembled and at no time during construction did a teacher from either high school ever touch the printers.

“It’s all built by the students; they had these printers assembled and built in five hours [Monday],” she said. “The build process taught them how the 3-D printer works physically and today [Tuesday] we’re learning how the computer and the machine work together. We’re learning about G-code, the software that runs the printers, and how to make perfectly printed parts.”

According to Gnieski, the printers work by heating plastic to around 210 degrees Celsius, which is about 400 degrees Fahrenheit, and then solidifying it in layers as determined by the software and object being printed. The liquefied plastic is referred to as filament. Goc said that the type of plastic filament the printer uses was the best compromise on price, safety and flexibility, adding that there are over 200 different filaments used in various 3-D printers on the market today, from rubber to metal to wood fill, as well as different kinds of plastics. However, those filaments and the printers that take them are much larger, carry a much higher price tag than the Jellybox, and carry a much greater potential for injury if mishandled.

What makes the Jellybox unique, he added, aside from its creation specifically for educational purposes, is its transparent design. It was designed that way to demystify the printing process and allow students to observe each step of the process as it occurs.

Components are also held in place using only zip-ties, making the printer easy to go back a step if a student makes a mistake or to disassemble the unit and teach the class a second time with a new group of students.

“Normally, 3-D printers are black and look like microwaves,” Goc said. “Jellybox is something people like to watch.”

He has taught students to create Jellybox printers at between 40 to 50 high schools in Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and New Jersey since creating the educational program in December of 2016. Next, Goc plans to teach his program to high schools in Chicago, Illinois.