3-D printers – A Buyers’ Guide
3D printing is hot technology. It engages students in the classroom in a way that few curriculum topics can. The technology is relevant to math, physics and art classes and can opens students’ minds to twenty-first century career paths. But can you get this equipment in your school without breaking the budget? If so, how do decide what to buy?
This article discusses the five key attributes you should look for when buying 3D printers for your schools.
Equipment and Material Cost
3D printers cost as little as $200 today, but their prices go up rapidly with features. In addition, the plastic filament that printers use to create designs will be a continuous cost. Currently, filament runs about $14 for two pounds of material. To ensure you not only have a printer, but also the material you need to run it, you will need secure sufficient funding to cover both costs.
3D printing is not a fast process. A 2 inch by 2 inch by ½ inch heart can take at least 20 minutes to print. With a classroom full of students waiting for their projects, it’s easy to see why time is a consideration. Make sure you understand the printing speeds of the equipment you’re considering.
There are two main types of safety hazards associated with 3D printers: the heat of the printer nozzle and the toxic fumes released when plastic filament is heated. Printer nozzles must be quite hot to melt the plastic into the desired shape. ABS, the cheaper of the two types of plastic materials used in lower cost printers, releases more toxic fumes. A printer that uses this type of material would not be a good choice for a classroom with poor ventilation. PLA plastic filaments, on the other hand, are eco-friendly, biodegradable, and come in a variety of colors.
Open Printing Space vs. Closed
Because of these safety concerns, some printers are made with an enclosure around the printing area. This makes it more unlikely that students will inadvertently injure themselves either through burns or inhalation of fumes. It does, however, drive up the cost of the printer.
A last thought on purchasing a 3D printer is that buyers must be prepared for a learning curve with the device. According the International Society for Technology in Education (ITSE), “It is not like fixing software errors on a computer. It’s more like fixing a LaserJet printer without the expertise of local tech support. Expect to spend some Googling problems that arise.