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Materials and 3Dprinting

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Materials and 3DPrinting in Education (PART 2 - with Philip Cotton, Lady Bridge High School and 3dfilemarket.com)

Our friend Philip Cotton has been involved with 3dprinting for many years now and has one of the pioneers in teaching design for 3D Printing at LadyBridge School in the UK over the past several years. Philip also won the 3dprintshow educational excellence award in 2013 and then again in 2014. He has also advised for the BBC on 3dprinting in education along with working with a number of leading Universities. Philip also serves as a UK national stem consultant for 3dprinting in education and takes part in many teacher discussion forums. If that was not enough, Philip runs 3dfilemarket in his spare time and finds time to  publish articles appearing in national teacher magazines about 3dprinting in education.
We had an opportunity to talk to Philip and get his thoughts on the subject of the use of materials for 3D printing in educational settings:


1. Philip, you have taught a "Design for 3D printing" curriculum in education for some years now, what do you think about the evolution in materials for 3Dprinting as it relates to education?
 
The evolution of materials is an interesting area. Over the past five years in education we have not really seen that much innovation to be honest. The first choice was ABS, however, this has fell out of favour with most teachers due to the smell that it gives of when printing. So PLA became the natural choice for teachers. The issues with ABS are quite big in my opinion. When we were trialling out a set of 3dprinting pens we had to stop using ABS because the kids were getting head aches from the fumes the pens were giving off. So we had to change to PLA filament which doesn't seem to give of any nasty smells.
 
There is actually quite a lot of research going in with the health impact of oil based materials used for 3d printing and at a 3d printing event I ran with the National Stem Centre we had a health and safety discussion with an industry leader who demonstrated a 3d printer that had a 'HEPA filter' built into it so it would extract any harmful particles. I think that within a few years in education all 3d printing machines will have to be fitted with this extraction technology so that prolonged use of materials don't cause any health issues.
 
In terms of different types of materials, again were really limited to PLA. Having tried out ABS, Co-polyester, XT, the most reliable for successful prints is PLA.
2. Are you covering material properties and their impact on design and functionality of printed parts?
 
Yes we do look at material properties and the functionality of printed parts. As we can only really print with PLA anything we do print can only be a prototype and can't ever take the place of a fully tested injection moulded product. ABS gives much stronger properties but then with the fume issue we can't use it so PLA is the natural choice.  I once burnt a strand of ABS and a strand of PLA and the results were startling, with the ABS being oil based this burnt like an oil well whilst the PLA didn't.
3. From an industry perspective, I think materials innovation is a boon and is the most promising frontier in additive manufacturing at the moment and it expands the application of the tech to levels that were unimaginable just a few short years ago. Are you finding most of these materials to be usable in the classroom setting?
 

Interestingly with more and more materials being released all the time the impact upon education has been slow. Usually with the cost factor of them being expensive. I recently have been testing out some brassfill and bronzefill, but with mixed results and cost being much higher I couldn't really roll it out to all students as it would blow my teaching budget. In education there is always a time 'lag' of a few years behind industry were there is a slower uptake. I have experimented with lots of different materials but time and time again, the only really suitable one at the moment for large scale mass 3d printing is PLA. When I am printing up to 50 - 70 parts per week I need reliability and good print finish and PLA gives this.
4. I imagine that as a teacher, you would see this as one more aspect of the tech to explore with students.  Are you evolving your curriculum to cover the importance of teaching future designers to think of "use case" ---> "Material choice" ----> "design influence" links, so they incorporate this into their design process flow?
 
Yes I do incorporate these features in teaching the design process. Material choice is a vital one, but then with a constrained budget we have to use what is affordable and reliable, which currently is PLA. Strength testing of PLA v ABS doesn't compare, ABS is much stronger with better properties, but we just can't use it. 
 
In terms of designer influence that features as a core element of the design process. We look at the Bauhaus design school in great depth and how this effected Dieter Rams, the Braun designer, who then became Johnathen Ive's influence. Imagine if we never had the Bauhaus design school, would apple be where it is now? We also look at other major 20th century design movements such as Pop Art and Di Stijl and how they have influenced modern day products. 
 
5. If there was anything you would change about current hardware to be more education friendly, what would it be?  Are there any good examples of companies that have the greatest potential here?
 
Yes, I would make some changes. I would ensure that all printers are enclosed so children can't get their hands stuck in the moving parts or burn themselves on the extruder. I would also ensure that they all had extraction fitted to them with hepa filters so we can print in any material and not have to worry about the fumes being given off. There is a company here in the UK called Kora http://www.kora.co.uk/ who have designed printers with hepa filters in which is the first model I have seen with this. 
 
I also think that 3d printing companies need to have a focus group with teachers and ensure that the models they market for education are fit for purpose and what teachers want. Teachers and home consumers are totally different and a 3d printer that maybe good for the garage, is not what classrooms need. 
 
6. Same for materials - are there materials that you would like to use in a classroom setting but are unable to do so because of safety reasons?
 
Personally I would like to see the experimental materials tested more and then released to education when all the glitches have been ironed out. To sell materials when they are not fool proof is scandalous and is actually holding back the adoption of 3d printing by new teachers. In terms of new materials that I would like to see in the classroom, I think polypropylene would be a good one, as this is one of the worlds most used plastics and if we could prototype in this it would reflect industry rather than dealing with PLA which isn't widely used.
Part One of the Blog: An interview with our founder, Preet Jesrani at DesignBox3D - by Philip Cotton from 3dfilemarket.com

With 3D printing gaining world wide attention on an almost daily basis, the main emphasis is placed on hardware and print quality. But what about 3D printing materials? Materials are a vital part to the 3D printing equation and without the right brand of filament then the 3D printing process can be put at risk if your materials you use are not up to scratch. We decided to ask an industry professional who is printing every day his views on the materials market and where the future is heading. Preet Jesrani is the CEO of our North American partners Designbox3D and has helped bring many smaller 3D printing manufacturers to prominence in the USA. This blog is part of a two part series with the follow up being posted by Preet tomorrow.

1. With the vast number of new ‘materials manufacturers’ entering the market on an almost daily basis, how do you see this effecting consumer 3D printing?

That’s a great question.  The materials market has been saturated for some time now.  By saturated, I mean there are too many companies still entering the market with nothing that differentiates them from the others.  Their approach is not based on innovation, and they seem to think a “me too” mindset and cool looking packaging for the basic PLA/ABS offering will ensure success.
With adoption of 3D printing growing at a rapid pace, many of the new entrants on the consumer side don’t always see the importance of materials choice and that often leads to an initial disappointment when materials from unknown manufacturers are chosen (usually but not always because of their lower prices) and do not work as expected.  My suggestion to any newcomer to the space would be to skip the unknown brands and look for companies that either have a track record for innovation or are attempting to be innovators (for new brands) with new materials.
light by gcreate3d

2. You test out many different 3D printers, how does filament quality reflect on the image of the printer? Do you recommend a particular brand over others?

We do an insane amount of testing of printers we are seriously considering and then their multi-material capabilities (especially if the manufacturer makes that claim).  Filament quality, in my opinion is of paramount importance in what initial end-user impressions are going to be.  In most cases, we have observed that new users will likely choose something cheaper that they can source online, without any concern for pedigree and that usually does not end well.
We have printers that we use in benchmark testing against other printers that we are considering and also for materials testing.  There are a select few new brands that we are testing at the moment that are very promising in their quality, materials range and product knowledge. One key standout for us has been the range of materials produced by our partners at PolyMaker.  Their material has worked extremely well across all the printers we distribute, resell or have tested.  In addition, as a company, they are founded on the principles of continual research and innovation, much like another company whose products we like a lot – Colorfabb.  Although we don’t directly work with Colorfabb, they have great material and are heavily focused on R&D.
series 1 3dprinter

3. What’s your view on 3D printing companies using ‘chipped’ cartridges verse open source standard materials? Which one will have longevity?

There are two flavors of the “chipped approach” – filament cartridges and chipped resin from many of the higher end DLP machines.  We think that at least in the professional/consumer desktop 3D printing people hate the chipped approach.  It is an intentional “closed” approach purely motivated by profit.  We would suggest that taking an “open filament” approach would encourage more companies and individuals to embrace 3D printing and at a faster pace.
All the innovation is also occurring outside of the “chipped material” world, so it is only a matter of time before either the approach or the companies pushing this fade into oblivion.

4. In terms of available materials, where do you see the future of 3D printing materials? Are we at a plateaux in terms of feasible materials of FDM printers?

Not at a plateau by any means.  A great example is a polycarbonate – not long ago, our friends at PolyMaker released PC-Plus (their PolyCarbonate filament) with extrusion temperatures of 280 degrees, which works extremely well on most 3D printers that have a hot end range that allows extrusion at these temps.  If I recall correctly, the extrusion temp for PC used to be 315-320 degrees.
So from what we are seeing at DesignBox3D, we are not at a plateau, rather that the innovation not just in material types but also their properties, and printability across a widening range of platforms is continual.
DesignBox3D printers

5.   What’s the most exciting development you have seen in 3D printing over the past year and what are your predictions for the future?

Aside from some promising new and mature (it not just the printers and the materials after all – it is about the people that stand behind them) entrants on the hardware and materials side, the most interesting development for on a personal level has been the recent news that Apple filed for a patent on what appears to be a full-color 3D printer. As a fan of all perfect or near perfect products and most things Apple, thats a pretty big one.

6. At what stage is education adopting 3D printing in the USA? Is there rapid adoption of the technology by a majority of schools?

Market penetration in education here in the US is far lower, based on what we have seen here, but in 2015 we have had many schools and universities move past “kicking the tires” to actually developing a design curriculum, budgeting and investing in additive manufacturing technologies in a big way.
The biggest hurdle is usually in relation to funding, but as many of our school district clients have found, funding sources do exist and as long as the “use case” is well supported, schools are able to request and receive the funding they need to bring 3D printing to their students.
Another segment that we expect to see rapid growth in is libraries – that would truly put 3D printing within everyone’s reach.
smart phone supported by docking station

7. What are educators feeding back about the materials market in 3d printing?

Educators in the US have a growing interest in exploring  a variety of materials, so long as they are classroom safe. There has been a great deal of interest in the metal infused, wood and flexible varietals on the market now. ABS is not a popular material primarily because of the fumes/chemical smell.  Any printer manufacturer that is focusing on the education space with an open machine and pushing ABS use (I can think of one or two) clearly is not thinking about the importance of a fume free classroom environment.
We always recommend PLA, PLA derivatives and PET to name a handful of materials we like from the enormous range of materials now available to choose from.
Check back tomorrow for the follow up to this blog, how detailing how ‘materials are being used in education’.