Mastering FDM 3D Printing in your school 3D Printing lab | Sculpteo Blog

Mastering FDM 3D Printing in your school 3D Printing lab

Posted By Carmel Rouhani on Jul 16, 2018 | 0 comments

Over the last few years, 3D printing has been playing a huge role in the education sector as it helps students to comprehend difficult concepts, to be more engaged with lessons, and to expand their imaginations and creativity. Basically, 3D printing makes the whole learning process more fun and inspires young minds. From elementary school to secondary school, university, and post-graduate work, FDM 3D printing is a clear front-runner in usage in the education sector. If you are an educator, lab manager, or are otherwise involved in working with FDM 3D printing in an educational setting, this blog is for you. Let’s take a closer look at FDM 3D printing technology, identify some of the challenges of 3D printing in an educational setting, and see how Fabpilot can help.


What is FDM technology?


Before diving right into the application of FDM in education, let’s briefly discuss what this technology is and how it works. FDM is an additive manufacturing process that melts plastic filament and extrudes it on to a printer bed to build parts layer by layer. The most common materials used with FDM 3D printers are PLA, ABS, and polycarbonate. Compared to other printing technologies, FDM technology is more affordable in terms of machine cost, with 3D printers starting as low as $200 USD. It is also more cost-effective with respect to the day-to-day costs and material costs. FDM 3D Printing is a very simple and straightforward way for schools and students to be introduced to 3D printing.  Since it is easy for educators and students to understand and maintain, it is clearly the best choice for school labs, and by far the most widely used 3D printing technology in education.  For elementary schools, high schools, and universities, FDM 3D printing is a great way to turn ideas into a reality to create prototypes, experimental parts, functional and end-use parts. Due to the affordability of the technology, the ease of operation, and variety of available materials; FDM 3D printing is best suited for any school or educational lab.


What are the challenges of FDM 3D Printing for education?


Managing and maintaining multiple machines


A typical FDM 3D printing process in a school lab would look something like this:

  • Students create a design or find one online
  • Instructors help students to identify defects which make the part unprintable
  • Students use a software to repair their 3D files
  • Slicing is done by using a tool such as Cura to obtain the gcode
  • The part is sent to the FDM 3D printer using an SD card, Raspberry Pi or other means of connection
  • Instructors verify the settings such as temperature or expected completion time and start the job
  • Students and instructors review the part to identify areas for improvement
  • Instructors ensure the FDM 3D printer is reset and ready for a next job or schedules maintenance


This might be acceptable if the instructor or student wants to print one prototype or model but imagine going through all these stages every time your whole class needs to print. Then how much time it would take for several projects of students to be printed?


Fabpilot software provides users with the ability to monitor machine performance by allowing remote access from anywhere; whether it is from the classroom or at home. Students and instructors can now modify and confirm FDM 3D printer settings like temperature, machine status, printing progress, and expected time of completion. Instructors will be able to identify available printers, manage multiple printers even in remote locations, and monitor materials usage. With less time spent on maintenance and upkeep of machines, instructors will have more time to focus on student engagement and learning.


Facilitating student interaction and collaboration


As an instructor or educator, one of the greatest challenges is supporting multiple learners to use the machines and ensuring they produce printable 3D files. You might also want to empower students to help each other to collaborate and share feedback on their 3D designs. Instructors and educators of all levels, have faced the challenges of managing students, equipment, and giving feedback efficiently.


Fabpilot, cloud-based 3D printing software, empowers collaboration between instructors and students and also between students by providing the ability to share, modify, review, edit and give feedback regarding 3D files from wherever they are. All of these changes are automatically saved to the cloud where it is safely stored and accessible by specified users. Furthermore, collaborators can see the evolution of the project such as what has been changed or by whom. This works extremely well in situations where students have different schedules, locations, and project timetables. Since everything is synchronized in the cloud, geographical and time differences are no longer a difficulty.


Instructors no longer have to go through a typical time-consuming collaboration process to schedule a specific meeting to discuss 3D file design and repairs, download the file to modify and re-upload to share; students and instructors can all work together in one software. Thanks to the cloud, instructors can now optimize their machine’s usage, improve their communication, and manage their workflow more efficiently.


Protect students’ intellectual property


Giving students access to FDM 3D printing provides students the chance to bring their creative designs and ideas to life. Whether it is invention, art, or science; it is important that students know how to protect their intellectual property. Fabpilot software enables students to store and secure their 3D files in the cloud without the need of emailing back and forth or file-sharing services. Students in groups can now work together on the same document on different computers and be confident that they are all working on the latest version.


With secure Fabpilot servers, students and instructors can be sure their work is safe. This can be extremely important for researchers particularly in university or post-graduate studies. Innovation and research are vital to advancing our use of 3D printing in many industries, and protecting the intellectual property of students at every level is critical.


Simplify the FDM 3D Printing process and save time!


Instructors of educational 3D printing labs know the struggles of managing multiple software, multiple machines, and multiple students. For labs using FDM 3D printing technology, you would need multiple software: one for slicing, one for orientation, another one for file repair and several more for other features. However, Fabpilot can help simplify your workflow by enabling you to perform all the features that a school lab might need such as file repair, file storage and security, 2D nesting, and machine scheduling.


By cutting down your school 3D printing lab’s IT infrastructure, schools can reduce the costs and complexity of purchasing licences, maintaining machines, and upgrading software. Instructors will be able to manage students accounts, files, and projects. Schools can save costs for running an FDM 3D printing lab and invest in other aspects such as material resources or machine maintenance. In addition, Fabpilot can stimulate students’ 3D interaction in the classroom by avoiding excessive 3D software training and practices, giving students more interaction with 3D printers and hands-on, real-life 3D prototypes.


How does it all work?


Multi-machine control: As any teacher or instructor knows, anything that can save time is a huge value to education. The traditional FDM 3D printing process can be a bit complex and time-consuming. Fabpilot software is built to make users’ 3D printing experience more convenient. One of Fabpilot’s main features enables users to automatically assign jobs to available printers even if remotely located. This would save school labs a lot of time if they have to manage multiple printers, technologies, and materials or handle hundreds of printing jobs.


Cloud slicing: Schools equip students with different CAD software to explore 3D designs and modelings such as TinkerCAD or Fusion360. With Fabpilot, users can upload more than 30 files types to slice and define toolpaths as gcode. By combining cloud slicing with file analysis and repairs, instructors and students can simplify the 3D printing process and save time. Gcode can be sent directly to the FDM printers wherever they are located. This makes 3D printing more simple and interesting for students to experience.


2D Nesting: Fabpilot lets students arrange the maximum number of parts on the build plate while avoiding collisions and crashes. In addition, it would help to reduce the number of jobs required to print students’ parts. With Fabpilot, users can now optimize the space of their FDM build plate and therefore be more productive.


Optimize orientation: In a high school and university environment, students generally lack the knowledge and experience of printing 3D models. Having said that, they might often face difficult 3D printing challenges like not knowing how to generate support structures. These issues can be easily overcome using Fabpilot’s automatic orientation feature. Which finds the optimal orientation for FDM 3D printing to minimize the need for support structures. Using the right tools in the right way, helps students and instructors to make the most of each 3D printing job.


What is next for 3D printing at school labs?


A lot of school labs have already applied the FDM technology as part of their teaching methods, but it will certainly evolve more in the future thanks to its contribution to this sector. FDM printing would continue helping the education sector to engage students’ imagination, teach them valuable skills as well as prepare them for future careers. In the end, it is extremely important for schools to not only choose the right technologies and hardware but also to find the best software for their labs’ operation. Fabpilot helps instructors and lab managers to enhance their students’ knowledge of 3D printing as well as FDM technology and streamlines the operation of a school 3D Printing lab.

If your school 3D Printing lab faces challenges operating FDM machines or you want to learn more about Fabpilot software, visit our website and start a free trial today or contact us to learn more about our education program.

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