Digital Fabrication class when the 3D printers are not cooperating

Posted: October 15, 2016 in Uncategorized
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So, I’ve been thinking about the digital fabrication class that I teach. It meets twice in a seven-day rotation schedule and is ungraded. I have two sections of 9 students each; we have three printers. Sounds like a very reasonable situation. Until it is not reasonable.

The first project for class is a catapult. Students have to design a catapult in parts and have it throw a ping-pong ball 10 feet. For a while, everyone is just designing. Then they start sending me the files fast and furious. The big, fast printer wasn’t working at the beginning. Ok. The other two are not fast, but they were working. And then there was one.

With a back log of files to print, I had to regroup.

Lucky for me I had an idea based on what happened with one student before the total mayhem began. One student had a base and an arm, but had not figured the space for the arm to move within the base correctly. But, it was a lot of printed material. In an effort to gain something from this version, I suggested he try to use one or both piece in some other configuration. He turned his base upside down, grabbed a lot of rubber bands and got to work. He may have used an arm from other student’s project. The result was not pretty, but it worked. I affectionately named it the Frankenstein monster catapult.

So, when my next class came in a few days later when we were down to one printer, I announced it was a Frankenstein make-it-work day. I told students to take what they had, use whatever cast-off prints they found around, look for other materials, and get that ping-pong ball 10 feet. The students went to work. Some used popsicle sticks to create missing pieces, others rubber-banded all sorts of whatever together.

There was a flurry of making. Students were more creative in their ideas. There was gluing, drilling, hacking. And, many ping-pong balls were flung. Energy was up.

By the next class, I will have more pieces printed. We are back up to two, maybe three printers. However, I think I will just call a halt to more printing.

There was also a design component to this challenge, which our “make it work” moment did not address. I may take one more period to have students consider the design and look of their creation and make a plan for a next version. However, I don’t think we will print anymore.

It turned out the constraint of the printers being out of commission forced the students to think more creatively, which was the point anyway. Given the numbers and printer limitations, I may put students in groups next time. Groups would cut down on the items to print and force some discussion and collaborating, which in a class that includes students from several grade levels, would be helpful.

Silver lining found.

Update: As soon as I published this, I read John Spencer’s post about duct tape and cardboard. I am definitely thinking about how to start my next project with these materials and THEN move to designing and 3D printing.


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