Over the last four years, the e‑NABLE volunteer community has grown into a global movement, with over 10,000 volunteers using 3D printing technology to make free assistive devices for anyone who needs them. Thousands of 3D printed hands and arms have been delivered to people all over the world.
Often, people have questions about how to get started with e‑NABLE. This guide provides an overview and some suggestions for those who want to get involved with this amazing community.
Step 1: Familiarize yourself with e‑NABLE’s Code of Conduct
It’s important that you understand and follow some simple rules when working with e‑NABLE. This is to protect you, as well the people you make devices for (many of whom are minors). Please read e‑NABLE’s Code of Conduct carefully.
Step 2: Familiarize yourself with the current e‑NABLE designs available
Spend some time browsing the designs on enablingthefuture.org. We try to keep that site up-to-date with the latest designs available. Each design page includes a link for downloading the files for 3D printing.
If you’re unsure which design to start with, the Unlimbited Phoenix is e‑NABLE’s current recommended design. It’s relatively easy to fabricate and assemble and is one of the most popular designs currently.
Step 3: Make a test device
Once you pick a design to start with, you should create a test device and submit it for approval. Since this device isn’t being created for a specific recipient, it can be made in any size, but we recommend that you use a scale of 120-135%. At 100% scale, the device will be too small for most people, and it will be harder to assemble at that size. 120-135% is a common size range for younger recipients, and it will be easier to assemble the device.
Most of the designs featured on enablingthefuture.org include links to instructions and/or video tutorials to help you get started.
3D Universe offers assembly materials kits for some of the most popular e‑NABLE designs. Assembly materials can also be purchased individually from various online or local sources.
Step 4: Submit your test device for approval
Once you have 3D printed and assembled a test device, visit the e‑NABLE forums and submit a video of your device for approval. This post provides details of what you should submit, including a sample video.
Step 5: Claim your Credly badges
Once your device is approved, you’ll be given instructions for claiming your “Test Device Approved” badge from Credly. Credly is a free service used by e‑NABLE to keep track of who is authorized for each design.
Once you have claimed your “Test Device Approved” badge, you should also claim the device specific badges for the design you were approved for. There are two badges for each design – one for fabrication and one for assembly. So, for example, if you were approved for the Unlimbited Phoenix design, you would claim the “Unlimbited Phoenix – Fabrication” and the “Unlimbited Phoenix – Assembly” badges. These device-specific badges are used by the e‑NABLE Web Central application (discussed later) to determine which volunteers can offer help with each individual device request.
Step 6: Learn how to properly size e‑NABLE devices
Before you start making devices for actual recipients, it’s important to learn how to properly size a device. Please watch the video tutorial series created by Peter Binkley, found here.
To follow this process, you’ll need to download a free copy of Blender, which can be found here.
You’ll also need to download Peter Binkley’s e‑NABLE Device Sizing Blender File, here.
Watch the videos carefully. Then watch them a second time, following along and pausing the videos as you follow each step of the process.
Step 7: Create an account on e‑NABLE Web Central
e‑NABLE Web Central is a web-based application used to connect individuals seeking to receive e‑NABLE devices with volunteers offering to make them. Visit e‑NABLE Web Central and create an account for yourself.
Be sure to select the “Fabricator” and/or “Device Assembler” roles during the registration process (or you can select them from the Edit Profile screen), or you won’t be able to see the volunteering related pages within e‑NABLE Web Central.
Go to the Volunteering Home page and click on “Browse Available Cases” to see a list of device requests where you can offer to help. Find a case that is requesting a device type you know how to make (preferably in your region), then click on “Offer to Help” in the Case Details screen to get involved. Once the case creator accepts your offer, you can review their sizing photos and make a device recommendation (recommend a certain type and size of device based on their photos). Once that recommendation is accepted, you can start producing the device.
Looking for a fun 3D printing project, or a nice gift for someone special? Bose offers a “BoseBuild” speaker cube that you can build yourself. And you can 3D print your own custom side-panels for it in whatever design you like.
At $149, the BoseBuild speaker cube isn’t exactly cheap (but it is a Bose speaker, after all). You can purchase the kit here.
Once you receive the kit, you can download the BOSEbuild Sound app for your smartphone. This contains a guided tutorial for assembling the speaker. The kit includes plain side-panels, as well as cut-out templates you can place over the panels to create interesting lighting effects (the speaker has multi-colored LED lights inside and can light up different colors in response to your music).
But to really customize your speaker, you’ll want to 3D print your own side-panels.
Start by downloading the STL file for the side panels here. You can also download an STL file for the clips that hold the panels in place here.
Now, it’s time to customize the side panels! There are lots of ways of doing this, but here’s the approach I used:
Using Selva3D, you can transform any 2D image into a 3D STL file. I used this to convert our 3D Universe logo into a printable STL. Make sure to set the height of the STL file to a high enough value that it will extend all the way through the speaker side panel.
I found that the STL file for the side panels from Thingiverse had some odd artifacts in it when I tried to edit it in TinkerCAD, so I ran it through the MakePrintable STL repair service. The resulting file was clean but rather large, so I used NetFabb (free license for students here) to reduce the number of triangles in the STL file by a little over half. This reduced it to a file of about 5MB – small enough for TinkerCAD to handle without much trouble.
Next, open TinkerCAD, create a new design, and import the optimized speaker side panel STL file:
Then import the STL file of your custom design (created using Selva3D) and position it on the panel:
Now, select the object you just imported and use the upwards pointing arrow to raise the object above the workplane by 1mm. This way, the design will be cut into the speaker panel, but won’t go all the way through it.
Then, change the object from “Solid” to “Hole” in the Shape window.
Next, select both objects (CTRL-A on Windows or CMD-A on Mac) and click the Group button. This will result in our customized speaker panel!
Click Export to download the new STL file, and you’re ready to start 3D printing!
The BoseBuild speaker has internal lighting, so you’ll want to use a transparent filament for the optimal effect. I used Ultimaker CPE+ Transparent, but you could also use Polycarbonate, Nylon, or some other transparent material.
Now just clip the new speaker panel(s) in place using either the clips that came with the kit or your own 3D printed clips (in your choice of colors).
I recently did a workshop with my local library, the Algonquin Area Public Library District. Working with a group of about a dozen 4th through 8th graders, we selected an object to 3D print and then created a time-lapse video of the project. This provided a great opportunity to introduce the kids to 3D printing in a fun and exciting way, and it also introduced them to a variety of video production skills.
This workshop was conducted in two parts. The first part took place on a Friday. The second part took place the following Monday.
First, I showed them about a dozen objects from Thingiverse.com and let them vote on which one to print. While they were at first very excited about some of the Pokémon characters available, they ended up voting for this fun marble machine, by Tulio:
We then proceeded to get the print job setup. Since we were using an Ultimaker 3 3D printer for this project, we used the Cura slicing software to prepare the print job.
This model was printed in PLA filament at 0.2mm layer height. No supports were needed.
Once the print job was setup, we positioned a webcam on a tripod in front of the 3D printer. Using a program called EvoCam, we took a snapshot of the print job every 15 seconds.
After getting the print job started and verifying that the snapshots were saving properly, we adjourned for the day and allowed the print job to run. As configured, the print job took about 39 hours to complete.
When we returned on Monday, we had a very nice print waiting for us:
Using a program called Zeitraffer, we combined the many snapshots of the print job into a time lapse video. At 30 frames per second, we ended up with a video of a little over 5 minutes. This would later be adjusted in the video editing phase to produce a shorter video.
Next, I provided the kids with choices of music to accompany their time-lapse video, and they voted for an upbeat piece called “Club Rock” which you’ll hear in the final video.
Using Final Cut Pro X, I showed them how to assemble the various pieces to produce the final video. We used some title slides, the above screenshots of Thingiverse and Cura, then the time-lapse video, shortened to about 1 minute, and then we inserted some footage showing the kids assembling and testing the marble machine. After adding our chosen music and inserting transitions, we were ready to produce our video and publish it to YouTube!
The kids had a lot of fun with this workshop, as did I. If you’re looking to introduce kids to 3D printing in a fun and engaging way, I recommend a project like this. Too often, the things produced by 3D printers are just static objects. In this case, you end up with a fun marble machine with moving parts that the kids can actually play with.
The “marbles” we used in the marble machine are 9.5mm steel ball bearings, which you can purchase at your local hardware store.
You can now generate STL files from actual topographic map data using this nicely-constructed online tool http://jthatch.com/Terrain2STL/. Navigate to any location on the planet earth, select the target area, and you can immediately download ready-to-slice STL’s.
To demonstrate this unique web tool, we chose to generate an STL of Mount Ranier and its surrounding area. From this screenshot, you can see that the map is centered on Mount Ranier itself, to locate the main peak in the center of the geometry:
Finding the target location was simply a matter of dragging and zooming, then hitting the “Center to View” button, then downloading the model. Exact latitude and longitude coordinates can be entered manually into the tool, as well.
Important note: any time you maneuver the map by dragging, you must always hit the “Center to View” button to update the lat-long coordinates.
We then loaded the STL into Cura, configured my 3D printing settings and was ready to print. It really is this easy. Here’s the finished 3D print job:
We recently had the opportunity to try out MiniMaker, a new software program from Digimania. MiniMaker makes it easy to create 3D printable action figures with just a few mouse clicks.
MiniMaker is fun and easy to use. It’s a great tool for introducing kids to 3D printing because it makes it easy for them to create action figures that are completely customized to their liking.
Each aspect of the figure can be customized, including:
Hairstyle / hat / helmet
Clothing (upper body)
Clothing and shoes (lower body)
Accessory being held
Positioning of figure
All of these options can be controlled with simple mouse clicks and drags. Positioning can be controlled with a simple slider, or by rotating individual control points in any direction.
Once the figure has been customized to your liking, you can generate a 3D printable .OBJ file with a single click.
For only $49.99, you get two versions of the software – one for creating boy figures and another for creating girls.
The resulting action figures require supports for 3D printing. While traditional supports can be used, this software really excels when paired with a dual extrusion 3D printer, like the Ultimaker 3. With the ability to use water-soluble PVA supports, you can produce nice, clean prints, like these:
Check out our video demo to see the software in action:
I am very fortunate to come to 3D printing as a “newbie” and have the opportunity to explore the possibilities of this rapidly growing industry — in the words of Avi Reichental of 3D Systems, “exponentially growing.”
Not first and foremost a technology person, I am still able to grasp the concepts of 3D printing and what makes it such an exciting phenomenon. Ideas like empowerment, democratization, customization, open-source sharing and the potential of the amazing creativity of the DIY movement in combination with open-source technology. I am excited by the possibilities, more and more of them realized each and every day.
In Makers: The New Industrial Revolution, Chris Anderson, author of the best-selling, The Long Tail, and editor in chief of Wired, explains the sources of this excitement and adds to it as he discusses the potential for 3D printing to jump-start U.S. manufacturing, where employment as a percentage of total working population is at a century-long low.
Anderson presents this vision of the future through two starting images, one from personal experience and one from a more abstract realm, that of science. His personal experience was of his grandfather, a lifelong tinkerer, who developed and patented an early automatic sprinkler system, something much-needed in the California of his time with its hot sun and residents’ insistence on green lawns.
In following the story of his grandfather as Anderson compares that experience to the experience of today’s tinkerers, “Makers,” we begin to understand how profoundly significant the difference is. As Anderson says of today, “any kid with an idea and a laptop can create the seeds of a world-changing company.” Much of the book is devoted to looking at the dimensions of that difference, primarily centered around giving tinkerers a computer and a connection to the Internet.
The other image that tells the story is the scientific one, the transition from bits to atoms. This image describes how we will take what we have discovered in the last ten years about creating, inventing and working together on the Web (bits) and reapply that knowledge to the real world (atoms). Physical objects begin as computer designs, and the designers share the designs online as files. A movement that began in factories and industrial design shops is moving into homes and garages and basements.
Touring this changing landscape with Anderson, I gained some surprising new perspectives. In talking about what revolutions can do, he described the movement from farmland into factories in the city and talked about the improvement in health that industrialization provided despite romantic claims to the contrary. Brick buildings in the cities protected people from damp and disease, and mass-produced cheap cotton clothing and good-quality soap allowed “even the poorest” to have clean clothing and better hygiene. Increased income allowed a better, more varied diet and improved access to healthcare, schools and other shared resources (pp. 36-37).
The productivity enhancements of the First and Second Industrial Revolutions drove worldwide economic growth. They changed everything “from longevity and quality of life to where people live and how many there are of them” (p. 38).
Many view the Information Age as the Third Industrial Revolution. Anderson argues that it was not an industrial revolution until it had a “democratizing and amplifying effect on manufacturing,” similar to the first two revolutions. He says the “Third Industrial Revolution is best seen as the combination of digital manufacturing and personal manufacturing: the industrialization of the Maker Movement.” The digital transformation not only makes existing manufacturing more efficient, it extends manufacturing to a hugely expanded population (p. 41).
The tools of 3D printing, the printers and the laser cutters, are ways to turn bits into atoms. And the process works in reverse too! “Reality capture” starts with an object, scans it and turns it into an image that can be manipulated and modified onscreen.
Piece by piece, Anderson examines the components that have created the specific characteristics of this Third Industrial Revolution: open hardware, building “communities” on open organization models, reinventing the old big factories and the maker movement.
He wonders, “Can Makers make jobs?” pointing out that as output doubled over the past four decades, manufacturing employment fell by about 30 percent over the same period (p. 153). I have watched that happen and experienced repeated calls for “retraining” in the manufacturing world, as jobs went away, never to return.
Anderson also points out that outsourced jobs are becoming more expensive as wages rise dramatically in countries to which we outsource, making them less of a threat.
He observes that the Maker Movement in essence finances itself by sharing designs, letting consumers manipulate and customize them, then pay for the output. In addition, crowd-funding advances the movement, giving it the lateral growth it requires to be a revolution.
Resulting Maker businesses represent the ultimate combination of atoms and bits — all described through the lense of stories about real people and their experiences.
The book is readable, explanatory, even exciting. It puts this newest revolution into the context of history, cultural history and manufacturing history. Its Appendix, “The 21st-Century Workshop,” invites us all, democratically, to join the revolution by providing brief introductions to its main tools.
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Most Compelling 3D Printing Projects Involve Assistive Technology
We’ve considered the worldwide race to bring 3D printing technology to every classroom, and we’ve considered 3D printing at the administrative level, that is, what the aims, goals and objectives of bringing 3D printing to a U.S. classroom might be. Now it’s time to consider some specific strategies in the classroom, brought to us by people on the frontlines of our educational system, teachers.
These specific projects and lesson plans are resources to select from once you have determined the aims, goals and objectives of your 3D printing program.
I will disclose my bias from the beginning: I find assistive technology projects most compelling, those that have a social assistance value. One of the best examples of this I have seen is the project Jeremy describes in this blog:
The Sierra project was carried out on behalf of e-NABLE(Enabling the Future), a group which just won a $600,000 grant from Google to continue their work of “passionate volunteers” making prosthetic hands for under-served communities. Currently e-NABLE has 55 schools registered as part of their program. Students and whole classes are able to make prosthetic hands for those who need them with support provided via email and Google Hangouts. Kits of hard-to-find non-printed parts are provided at a discount at shop3duniverse.com.
Of equal value is another project Jeremy describes in this blog:
Why do these projects take my attention? STEM learning is inherent to almost any 3D project; however, the project with Sierra engages a widening group of people in an assistive technology (social assistance) project and, in doing so, not only teaches important values but show kids how they can have a huge impact in making their world a better place.
I can’t imagine anything more empowering for both giver and receiver than the kind of exchange that happens as Sierra not only makes a prosthetic device for someone but engages her whole class in that enterprise.
Not only did this lesson involve powerful values and empowerment, but in bringing a commercial operation into the picture as a philanthropic driver (when shop3duniverse.com spearheaded a campaign to get Sierra a 3D printer), it engaged Sierra and her classmates in an important aspect of philanthropic endeavor.
A school in Cambridge, MA: Problem solving and collaboration – a group of junior high and high school students in Cambridge, MA, are part of an experimental education program that aims to prove they’re capable of solving real-world problems early with the help of 3D printers, Arduino and group collaboration
Valuable primarily for a good graphic showing ways to use 3DP in 9 areas of learning, plus this specific resource:
“Typically, students are not allowed to handle fragile objects like fossils and artifacts; 3D printing shows promise as a rapid prototyping and production tool, providing users with the ability to touch, hold, and even take home an accurate model.” A great example of this is GB3D Type Fossils, a free collection of fossils from British museums that anyone can download and print. Sight and touch are powerful senses. Giving students the ability to hold and see the fossils can aid understanding and appreciation for the past.
Full Circle: 3D Printing Assistive Technology Projects
Bringing this post full-circle, the kids in this teacher’s classroom wanted to 3d print prosthetic hands. Not only are these kinds of assistive technology projects appealing to adults who want to teach important values, values that are key to building a better society, but they are important to kids, who want to be those builders! Kids are naturally inspired by the possibility of helping others.
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Erik de Bruijn is a co-founder of Ultimaker BV, launched in 2011. Ultimaker became an established brand in the 3D printing community within its first year, selling its flagship product, “Ultimaker”, to nearly 1000 people worldwide. The Ultimaker is the fastest 3D printer in its segment, printing the largest objects with the greatest detail.
Here’s what the company has to say about itself:
“It all started with a thought. We wanted everyone to be able to enjoy the experience of making. Whether it was a cat dressed as an astronaut or a mechanical masterpiece, we set it as our goal to enable you to make those things. So we built a pioneering device that everyone could use and enjoy. We made it open source so everyone really could pitch in. And we started to grow…We tinkered, tweaked, invented, innovated and reinvented. And so did our community…”
This statement reflects what became a theme of our interview: 3D printing is exciting, but just as exciting are the values the movement embraces. Tinkering, creativity, open sharing, collaboration, community, enabling and empowering: these are words we hear over and over again as 3D printing enthusiasts talk about the world of 3D printing, the world of tomorrow that is opening before us today.
The Interview, Part I: Erik de Bruijn’s Role & Ultimaker, The Product
Jeremy: I’m here today with Erik de Bruijn, one of the founders of Ultimaker. Erik, can you tell us about your role with Ultimaker today?
Erik: We are growing rapidly. It’s great to see so many new, talented people join the company. It is also great to know that although it’s difficult for us to find the right people, we continue to find people who embody the Ultimaker spirit and share the same open source and open hardware ideals we have.
Although my role changes in some ways as we grow, in other ways my role as a founder remains constant, at least at its core: my job is to make sure our mission remains intact and that we can all do something we believe in. It is still very motivating to see people taking their ideas and making them tangible.
While I’m passionate about technology, I’m especially excited about technology as a tool: 3D printing, electronics, how they work together and how they can empower the user.
I learn from the people we’re hiring. I like to connect various ideas and make something neat out of that. I’m able to do that with more and more people as we grow.
It’s also my job to make sure we’re working on interesting concepts and making good products. Our products are the driver in terms of what we can do in innovation.
Jeremy: Speaking of products, others have focused on making a machine that can reproduce itself, along the lines of the RepRap Project. Ultimaker seems more focused on quality. Can you talk with us a little about the commitments that make Ultimaker unique?
Erik: Yes, we are focused on making a printer that’s high quality and reliable, but we do find that many people in the community are using Ultimakers to print upgrades for their Ultimakers!
We also want to make it possible for people without a lot of knowledge to use an Ultimaker. Things like layer thickness, quality control, repeatability and resolution are very important to us. We want to raise the bar for desktop 3D printers. We’re seeing now that our machines are used in medical research, for example, to make scaffolds for biofabrication.
It’s these kinds of applications that, on the one hand, are a testimony to our quality and, on the other hand, push us to increase the quality of the machine and the 3D prints.
The Interview, Part II: Viability of Open Source Business Model in 3D Printing
Jeremy: Ultimaker has always had a commitment to open source. Some argue that it’s difficult to maintain a viable business while giving away designs and maintaining an open source approach. How do you respond to that idea?
Erik: We do have that commitment, and we are viable and we keep growing.
Hopefully people copy from us and contribute something back. We’ve seen a lot of people from the community improve and contribute to Ultimaker. Others have simply copied the machine and are selling these copies. This drives us to keep improving our machine.
Still, it’s really about the kinds of interactions we have. There’s a good feeling about what a community is and a sense of appreciation for why people are in this community. It’s about tinkering and creating and sharing.
It’s important to share what we know, not expecting something back but feeling confident that something will come back. The beauty of community is that we might get something back that we didn’t expect! Or something for which we didn’t even ask!
Publishing design files opens the opportunity for people with diverse skills to look at the designs and contribute. People look at the designs because they’re interested, but they might have a very different take, a diverse approach, and that adds to it.
Most companies look to hire a narrow set of people for R&D. That’s the traditional way but probably not the best way to get an R&D department together.
The kind of community we work in doesn’t have constraints around time or on what we can try. People have full autonomy, and that can lead to a process of creativity, to trying new things and experimenting.
Of course there can be too much freedom as well as too many constraints. Balance is what we want. And so we appreciate different skills and give people free reign — but we also have staff who make sure things are stable, who exercise quality control.
Taken together, stable quality and fast innovation is what makes a company viable. The open approach we take has proven to work well and benefits us and the community.
Jeremy: Erik, you and I met as volunteers with the e-NABLE community – link. Ultimaker has been very supportive of that community, donating printers, software development and more. Can you tell us about Ultimaker’s charitable efforts?
Erik: e-NABLE benefits from the freedom of 3D printing.
All too often, the goal of the medical community is to try to make a product like a prosthetic invisible. With 3D printing, you can decide what a prosthetic should look like. The recipient is in the driver’s seat!
3D printed things, including prosthetics, don’t only have to be useful but also cool and well-liked, or people won’t use them. When a user can make the decisions, it’s more likely they’ll actually use the product.
And if they require changes, that can happen too, because a 3D printed prosthetic is so much less expensive than traditional devices. A 3D printed e-NABLE hand may cost $20. This makes it very affordable for the developing world as well. That’s what I mean by the freedom of 3D printing.
Ultimaker wants to connect with that freedom. We used to develop things on the computer that remained virtual, but it’s great to finally be able to make things physical, to invent something tangible by yourself or with others.
Also, e-NABLE is a community of people helping each other, so their orientation is similar to Ultimaker’s.
The Interview, Part III: 3D Printing in Education
Jeremy: 3D printers are showing up in classrooms around the world. Ultimaker is a popular choice in schools. What are Ultimaker’s goals with regard to education?
Erik: We are doing well in business environments, schools and maker communities. We want to support these sectors because we came from them.
3D printing has been around for 30-35 years. In some ways, these environments are late comers, and yet children are very creative. They’ll catch the schools up fast, and we want to be part of facilitating that.
It’s great for kids to have an idea and make it. Most of us grew up with old idea that we ourselves can’t make anything. The new idea is “imagine, then make.” It’s about dreaming AND doing.
3D printed items in the classroom can make ideas and concepts visible. A 3D printed depth map of Waterloo will let you understand why certain things happened at the battle. A 3D printed crown of an ancient king may let you see just how small people were back then. A 3D printed model of an engine lets you see how crankshafts work.
Especially for kinesthetic learners, 3D printing often makes ideas click much more rapidly than other methods. For experiential learners, 3D printed items in a classroom can also have significant impact. These two learning styles are hardly addressed and taught to in the current educational system.
Imagine just sitting in a chair 30 hours a week with someone rattling off facts and concepts. Now imagine being a kinesthetic or tactile learner for whom touching and interacting with an item deepens understanding. For these kinds of learners, that lecture style of presentation is a very boring thing. 3D printing has a part to play in making concepts tactile and letting kids interact with a physical manifestation of an idea in order to completely understand it.
The Interview, Part IV: 3D Printing, Tinkering, Collaboration & the Power of Community
Jeremy: What is the most exciting experience you’ve had since starting Ultimaker? Erik: That’s a good question!
Probably one of the most powerful moments was at the e-NABLE conference at Johns Hopkins University. What a great event! All these people were using 3D printers and had been using them in their homes.
It was an amazing experience to see how all those parts for 3D printed hands were brought together. It was even more amazing to watch people assembling prosthetic devices with their children and for their children!
That experience made me feel proud of what we’re doing as a company and as a community.
We have had moments within our own company as well. We feel an Ultimaker spirit with all these different people that have joined us. Of course there are hurdles along the way, technological or interpersonal. The things that can sometimes be difficult are also the things that make it meaningful.
Jeremy: So really what you’re doing is giving people a tool with these 3D printers. They take it from there, seeing what they can create. Have people done things that surprised you or that you weren’t expecting?
Erik: I was just at an Ultimaker event a few days ago, lots of people coming together. A guy called Arjan showed me that he had modified his Ultimaker to add interchangeable print heads for multi-extrusion printing.
This process of expanding the capability of a 3D printer is what lets Ultimaker make better printers.
I think it would be ironic if people had a tool that can make almost anything but couldn’t improve on the tool. I like coevolution. We shape the technology, and the technology shapes us.
Something big has changed since open source software became significant. We might not be able to find two people in the same geographical space and with the right set of skills to collaborate, but we can certainly find two on the globe. It’s exciting. It finally gives us the power to collaborate globally and produce locally.
Jeremy: Where do you see consumer level 3D printing going and Ultimaker fitting into that picture?
Erik: We are already in a steep growth curve, but there’s still a lot of growth ahead before we hit the consumer stage. Still, I have to say, it’s in the near future. We tend to overestimate exponential change in the short run and underestimate it in long run.
Certainly we’ll get to a place where we’ll print different kinds of structures and materials with one device.
We’ll see more people tinkering online with a design to make it work for them. We’ll see more products completely manufactured to specification in this way. And collaboration tools will be more powerful too.
At Ultimaker, we want to encourage that collaborative process of tinkering and customizing. This possibility is a great motivator for me. People around the world can invent tools and have manufacturing capability in their homes and work with us. We cannot do it alone as a company — we want to collaborate!
The Interview, Part V: YouMagine
Jeremy: So I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask for hints of upcoming product lines or initiatives . . .
Erik: I’m glad you asked. I’ll mention a couple of things, but I’d like to focus on a project that is near and dear to my heart, YouMagine.
We’re always working to make our machines more user friendly, more capable and more connected. And we’re working toward machines with multi-material capabilities.
The Ultimaker printer is an output device. It has to work well and be capable — but a single focus on a better device is too narrow.
We want to take things to the next level, so we work on lots of things at the same time. It cannot be just “good” hardware if we want our users to succeed. Software and hardware need to work well together. This is where we can make the difference.
We also want to be sure the Ultimaker is compatible with materials we haven’t even tried yet. That doesn’t mean everything will work with it, but you have to have freedom to use cutting edge material. And exciting materials are released almost on a weekly basis.
And there’s YouMagine, a project I created and oversee. YouMagine is an online community of 3D printing enthusiasts who want to work together to share, remix and make better 3D printed things collaboratively. YouMagine facilitates this community, empowers and gives people the tools they need in order to improve, invent and make.
We believe that through collaboration and sharing all of us can make all the things better.
Jeremy: Erik, it seems as though the recurring theme of our conversation is the power of a community, of collaboration and sharing. This is what excites me about 3D printing as well. It’s a new way of thinking and living and creating. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us today.
Erik: Thank you. I enjoyed it.
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WHY we need to get 3D printing into every classroom
Let’s talk about why we should bring 3D printing into every classroom and why it must be a fundamental part of the education of the future, starting today. We can talk about these questions through a mechanism known to any teacher who has ever written a curriculum. We’ll consider some possible aims, goals and objectives of 3D printing in the classroom.
In 3D printing in every classroom Part I, we looked at two paths to bringing 3D printing into schools. In our American culture, we will most likely take the second approach, what I call, “Bottoms Up.” We will generate enough excitement on a national level to stimulate local areas to plan for and fund 3D printing in their schools.
That means for 3D printing in every classroom to become a reality, school districts must think about how this transformative technology can most effectively and comprehensively become part of the project of local education.
For an investment in 3D printing to be effective, planning must include not only amazing projects but a clear idea about why those projects are an essential part of an education in our modern world. What are our district-wide aims, goals and measureable objectives?
Here are some ideas as we begin to lay out worthwhile aims and goals of a program to bring 3D printing into classrooms.
In a provocative book published in the 70s, Growing Up Suburban, Edward A. Wynne argues that the “total environment of the suburban youth—the school, the community, the family, and the workplace—is in need of drastic reform.” Specifically he makes the case that young people in suburban homes are isolated from real world responsibilities, challenges and problem solving. This isolation contributes to alienation and anti-social behaviors.
During my own teacher education, this book had a tremendous impact on me. I believe that 3D printing, as a transformative and disruptive technology, is the right catalyst for generating the profound changes that need to happen in our communities. It can and does provide young people with ways to participate meaningfully in real life challenges and problem solving.
Arecent presentation by Avi Reichental of 3D Systems contributes another dimension to shaping an “aim” for 3D printing in education.
In a world where we will have a “ubiquitous 3D lifestyle that will permeate every aspect of our lives,” we aim:
To prepare students to live in and participate effectively and meaningfully in a world transformed by 3D printing.
“Although the new technology that is fueling the maker movement gets a lot of attention, more important are the values, dispositions and skills that making fosters, such as creativity, imagination, problem-solving, perseverance, self-efficacy, teamwork, and ‘hard fun.’
“As Steve Jobs observed, describing the impact that having access to a Heathkit (a do-it-yourself electronics kit) had on him, “Things became much more clear that they were the results of human creation not these magical things that just appeared in one’s environment that one had no knowledge of their interiors. It gave a tremendous level of self-confidence that through exploration and learning one could understand seemingly very complex things in one’s environment.”
In an earlier post in this blog Jeremy Simon showed the power for a young person of having an idea and within hours holding it in his or her hand: “He [a ten year old] had an idea, sketched it out, and then we brought that idea into physical form – from his head to the real world in just a few hours.”
Following are goals that suggest themselves from the White House post and the powerful experience of one child that Jeremy Simon described.
Some goals of bringing 3D printing into our classrooms might be:
To foster the values, dispositions and skills of creativity, imagination, problem-solving, perseverance, self-efficacy, teamwork and fun.
To inspire the self-confidence that comes from exploration and understanding seemingly complex things in one’s environment.
To enable the deep understanding and problem-solving ability that results from seeing abstract ideas actualized within an age-appropriately meaningful time frame.
Finally, here are a few measurable objectives, helped by a post from Stratasys. Students will:
Develop familiarity with essential tools they will require to build the future.
Be exposed to the same cutting-edge technologies they will encounter in their careers.
We’d like to hear your thoughts about this aim and these goals and objectives.
Can you fill out the objectives? For example, can you list specific tools students will need to build the future? Specific technologies? The specifics of howthinking, designing and making differ from the way we think, design and make now? What real-world problem solving skills are required as we enter a 3D printing era?
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Coming up: 3D Printing in Every Classroom, Part III.
This bold move will station China at the forefront of the march to bring 3D printing technology to the classroom. It demonstrates a commitment to the democratization of learning, an ideal counterpart to the potential for 3D printing to democratize manufacturing or “making”.
Printers in 400,000 schools. That’s a bold and enviable initiative. It’s also a top-down initiative. What are the potential challenges involved in this approach?
Certainly preparedness of the infrastructure is a concern:
Will staff in every school be prepared to support and sustain this technology?
Will curricula be ready so that 3DP is integrated to learning in the most effective ways possible?
Will teachers be trained to incorporate 3DP into their classrooms in effective ways?
Will schools have an adequate ongoing supply of required materials?
Bottoms up 3D printing in every classroom
It’s hard to imagine us succeeding with a similar strategy in the U.S. Surely there would be years of painful budgetary wrangling accompanied by partisan attacks and counter-attacks.
In the U.S. we rely on generating excitement and interest at the grass roots level with federal and local level speeches, Maker Faires, science fairs and funding for centerpiece resources.
Last June 18, President Obama “hosted the first-ever White House Maker Faire and challenged ‘every company, every college, every community, every citizen [to] join us as we lift up makers and builders and doers across the country.’” The President called for an “all hands on deck” approach and suggested six projects that might help build student participation in “making.” This June, the White House will host the second Maker Faire.
Other than generating excitement and seed funding, though, it has been up to individual schools, school districts and organizations to plan for and invest in 3D printing. There are an increasing number of wonderful 3DP projects initiated in individual classrooms and schools, several I’ll highlight in 3D Print in every classroom, Part III.
There’s a reason why so many people from all walks of life are passionate about 3D printing: It’s a great hobby! Once you’ve learned how to print (and get good results) the whole process is a total hoot.
However, you’re going to encounter a number of teething issues and stumbling blocks along the way. So what can you do to bypass these hurdles and progress with your printing knowledge and skills?
There’s loads of information online about 3D printing, but much of it is aimed at those with existing knowledge and experience.
This can make getting started with 3D printing a challenging task indeed.
To help make your journey from 3D printing novice to expert as simple as possible, the crew at 3D Printer Plans have compiled a Beginner’s Guide to 3D Printing that will teach you everything you need to know to get started the right way.
Here’s a sample of what you’ll learn:
The history of 3D printing
Different printing processes (and their pros and cons)
How to pick your first 3D printer
What software you need to get started
Essential hardware and accessories
Maintenance and safety instructions
Hopefully you’ll find 3D Printer Plans’ guide useful – you can read their free guide to 3D printing here.
The science fair is over, but Sierra’s adventure continues! As you may recall, having finished her work for the science fair, Sierra still wanted to do more. At her request, I worked with e-NABLE to locate an 8-year old girl in need of a prosthetic hand. Sierra is now helping to build that device for this girl she’s never met!
Also, this is a new design, developed by several e-NABLE volunteers, made specifically for people who have a functional thumb but no fingers. So not only is Sierra making a new hand for another girl, but she’s also helping us to test this new design and is providing valuable feedback from the assembly and testing process.
Today, Sierra was going to be speaking to a large group of teachers in Vermont, as part of a “Make, Create, Learn” event focused on personalized education. Unfortunately, she came down with a bad cold and 102 degree fever yesterday, so she wasn’t able to make it to that event.
I had the honor of being a guest speaker for that event, so I got to talk to 50+ educators who are working to bring more personalized and experience-based education to our schools.
Kate Gagner, Sierra’s teacher, was also there, and had the following to say about Sierra’s project:
“I think Sierra said about 27 words the first six months of school – she’s very, very quiet. But this hand became the unofficial mascot of our classroom. She was a rock star. She had all of this intellectual and social capital because she had designed this project for herself, and it was so innovative and so cool and so engaging, that she just stole the show. It was really great to see.”
While she couldn’t make it to the Make, Create, Learn event, earlier tonight, Sierra was featured on her local news station, WCAX, in Vermont! Check out this great video:
Sierra came up with this project idea for exploring possibilities for 3D printed prosthetic devices (for people or animals). She went on to not only make a fully functional prosthetic device, with minimal assistance, but also make another device for someone who actually needs one! Along the way, she has been inspiring people all around her. Her classmates have been inspired. Her teacher and fellow educators have been inspired. I’ve been inspired. Today, that circle of impact broadened considerably, with 50+ other teachers being inspired by her work. Now they’re tweeting about it and sharing it with others.
Sierra is making a real impact that is already spreading far beyond her home town.
Would you like your kids (or your classroom) to be involved in a project like this? Send me an email or give me a call, and I’ll be happy to help you get started!
Email: jeremy (at) 3duniverse (dot) org
Sierra celebrated her 11th birthday yesterday. Happy birthday, Sierra! This is a big week for Sierra – her science fair is coming up this Thursday!
As I showed in Part 2, I sent some 3D printed parts and assembly materials to Sierra, and she was able to assemble a fully functional mechanical hand, with minimal assistance. As a nice surprise, Sierra’s mom recorded the whole assembly process as a time-lapse. I am therefore very pleased to share with you this wonderful video:
Isn’t it great? I especially love the ice-cream break!
Then, on Thursday, May 29th, I had the opportunity to do a Skype call with Sierra’s entire classroom (14 students). These kids asked the most amazing questions. So intelligent! We got to spend more than half an hour talking together about 3D printed hands, and 3D printing in general. We talked about where 3D printing is likely to be a few years from now, and how they might be using it.
This is the second “virtual field trip” I’ve had the opportunity to do so far. I previously did the same thing with a classroom in Massachusetts. It’s wonderful to see how kids respond to this technology. They listen attentively, they ask intelligent questions, and they seem genuinely interested in learning more.
The e-NABLE volunteer community is now beginning to formulate plans for helping more classrooms to get started with 3D printing, and to make 3D printed hands for people who need them in their local communities. There is so much talent and good-will within e-NABLE – I’m very excited to see what we’re able to come up with.
So on Thursday, Sierra goes to her science fair to present her work to the school and community. But even though she hasn’t finished that yet, Sierra has already volunteered to make another 3D printed hand for another child who actually needs one!
Another e-NABLE volunteer helped me to quickly identify an 8-year-old girl who doesn’t have most of her fingers on one hand. She does, however have a fully functional thumb. e-NABLE is currently testing a new design, specifically for people who have a functional thumb but need mechanical finger replacements.
I printed the parts out for this new design and have sent them to Sierra. She’s going to assemble and test the new hand. She’ll then provide some feedback about how the new design seems to work. When she’s finished, she’ll send it to me for a final check, and I’ll then send it to the 8-year-old girl who is awaiting her new hand.
Having done a similar assembly already, I can guarantee Sierra will be able to put this one together without issue. So we now have an 11-year-old girl making a new hand for an 8-year-old girl who lives 2,000 miles away from her – for free! And BOTH girls are very happy about it!
Here’s a photo of the new hand parts, unassembled:
A note to Sierra:
Good luck with the science fair on Thursday! You’re going to do great! Of course, the outcome (if they even select “winners” at this science fair) doesn’t really matter. You’ve already achieved so much and inspired so many people!
I’m so proud of the work you’ve done, and especially the way you’re volunteering to help make a new hand for our new friend. To see someone your age who already understands how rewarding it is to do things like this for others is a wonderful thing!
I’m so impressed with Sierra! I sent her a bunch of 3D printed pieces and some assembly materials:
From there, she was able to assemble a fully-functional mechanical hand prosthesis.
And she’s TEN YEARS OLD.
Now, let’s look at the bigger picture here for a moment…
Sierra has already caught the attention of Ed Tech, who wants to interview her, and the science fair hasn’t even taken place yet.
Her classmates have been excited to hear stories of her work, so this Thursday, I’ll be doing a Skype call with her whole class to talk about 3D printing and the kind of work Sierra and I are doing.
And of course, stories and photos of her work are being shared on the Internet.
Now, think about the downstream effects of all this. Sierra is going to be reaching thousands of people – sending a strong message about how powerful this technology is. An affordable technology that allows a 10-year-old to do something that used to require a big company and millions of dollars in R&D and manufacturing costs is a really big deal, and Sierra is helping to spread the word. For that, I am truly grateful to her.
I have a new project that I will share with you as it develops. I think it will serve as another great example of why 3D printing is so important for students and schools.
Meet Sierra, a 10-year-old girl who is getting ready for a Science Fair and wants to show how 3D printers can help humans and animals who need limbs. I have volunteered to help her with her project. I’ll send her some assembly materials kits so she can make her own 3D printed prosthetic hands. The photo above shows her first “Cyborg Beast” e-NABLE Hand printing with the help of a local 3D print shop.
Sierra’s mom described Sierra’s feelings about this project:
“She is so incredibly excited about this project. She goes to sleep talking about it and wakes up asking what we have to do next…”
“Her enthusiasm for this project has ignited interest in 3D printing in her classmates as well as her teacher. I’m sure her teacher would be interested in turning this into a class project (probably for next school year since we are winding down).”
Well, I’m excited too! I’ll speak with Sierra and her mom via Skype soon, and I hope to speak with her teacher as well. Maybe I can help Sierra’s teacher get a class project going and eventually maybe even a whole curriculum for 3D printing!
3D printing is an amazing technology, and children in particular seem to recognize the potential. I’ve seen my own son’s eyes light up when he realized he could have an idea and turn it into a physical object overnight. I’ve had other people bring their kids over to see our 3D printers and talk about how it works. Within minutes, these kids become engaged in a way we don’t see often enough these days.
We adults grew up in a world where companies make the products, and the rest of us are just consumers. Our children will grow up in a world where we are all co-creators. They seem to recognize this potential intuitively and get genuinely excited about it. Our educational system desperately needs something like 3D printing to provide a more practical education that can truly engage kids.
The power of 3D printing to engage is why I’ve been so excited to see students, teachers and schools getting involved in 3D printing, specifically in 3D printing prosthetic devices. Most schools with more than a couple thousand students are likely to have at least one student with an upper limb difference. Students in that school can work together to make a new hand for someone they know — and learn all about 3D printing along the way!
Here are some videos showing students involved with 3D printing. Notice how genuinely interested and engaged they seem:
Today, I received the following update from Sierra’s mom, Lianne:
“I just got back from an EdTech conference, and 3D printing was a VERY popular subject. Sierra has also attracted some big attention to her project, and it looks like some Ed Tech leaders in VT will interview her. The Keynote speaker described this exact kind of learning and how it needs to be more evident in schools if we are going to keep kids engaged. Very cool!”
Very cool, indeed!
I have two assembly kits ready to send to Sierra tomorrow:
Each kit includes all of the assembly materials needed to make a 3D printed “Cyborg beast” e-NABLE Hand.
Autodesk just announced two things that could be significant for 3D printing:
An open software platform for 3D printing called Spark. This platform will make it more reliable yet simpler to print 3D models and easier to control how that model is actually printed.
Their own 3D printer that will serve as a “reference implementation for Spark. Autodesk President and CEO Carl Bass says this printer “will demonstrate the power of the Spark platform and set a new benchmark for the 3D printing user experience.”
Autodesk has already supported the 3D printing community in a major way, especially when it comes to students and educators. They have also actively supported the e-NABLE community and other sources of crowd-based innovation. This announcement further demonstrates their commitment to contribute to an important technology already having a very positive impact around the world.
Regarding licensing for their new software and hardware, Autodesk says:
Spark will be open and freely licensable to hardware manufacturers and others who are interested. Same for our 3D printer – the design of the printer will be made publicly available to allow for further development and experimentation. The printer will be able to use a broad range of materials, made by us and by others, and we look forward to lots of exploration into new materials.
Spark’s open licensing could have a significant impact. Think about how far 3D printing has come in recent years. This growth and development has primarily been the result of open source designs (for example, the RepRap), shared with the world, picked up by others, further developed, re-released, and so on.
Now, Autodesk, a company with significant financial and personnel assets, will give that very active global community an open software and hardware platform. This offering will provide an opportunity to address many of the common complaints with the current state of 3D printing.
The details on Autodesk’s new software and hardware platforms are scarce for now, but Autodesk says both be available later this year.
The printer sure looks pretty, but I’m actually more interested in the software side of Autodesk’s announcement. The whole 3D printing workflow could be significantly improved with 1) better software and 2) moving away from the STL file format in favor of a format developed specifically with today’s (and tomorrow’s) 3D printers and materials in mind.
My experience with Autodesk’s software so far has shown me they know how to build applications that provide a smooth user experience. I can think of no other company that knows 3D modeling and 3D file formats better than them.
I don’t know exactly what features their software and hardware will include, but I’m confident both will be of a high quality. Since the software is open and hardware designs will be released, others will be free to build upon these offerings. I’m guessing it will further accelerate an already rapidly developing technology.
We’ve waited for the “big players” to get into 3D printing. HP and Epson are still getting ready, and we know they’ll shake things up when they do. Whatever they offer, though, it’s not likely to be shared or licensed freely. Autodesk is making a significant contribution here.
If you’d like to sign up to be notified as more information becomes available from Autodesk, please visit here.
As discussed in a previous post, there is exciting potential for 3D printing as part of an educational curriculum. It can help to bring ideas to life in a tangible form that can help facilitate new understanding.
Here are just a few possibilities that come to mind for using 3D printing as part of a K-12 curriculum:
3D Printed Bridge-Building Contest
Challenge kids to design, model and print a bridge that can span a space of about six or seven inches (that way, the bridge will fit on most 3D printer build platforms). Limit them to a specific amount of filament used to create the bridge (the 3D printer and/or slicing software will tell you exactly how much filament any given model uses, so you would just have the students submit their STL files to you for analysis). For younger kids, an adult can help do the 3D modeling, but the kids can still figure out what design they want and then see the result created before their eyes. When one bridge breaks, they would just make a change in the model to try to address the issue, then reprint.
3D Printed Models to Illustrate Complex Ideas
Simply providing students with a 3D printed model that they can hold in their hands, turn around and look at from all angles can be very helpful. Examples might include molecular/atomic models, biological models (i.e. internal organs), or geometric models that illustrate mathematical concepts. For physics classes, models for things like catapults, working gears, pulleys, etc. can be printed to illustrate specific principles.
Product Design Challenge
Challenge students to come up with a unique design for a new product, or an improved design for an existing one. Students would then 3D model the product (with help from adults as needed) and then print it out. Not only does this create an incredible experience for the student, as they are able to take an idea and turn it into a physical reality, but it also provides valuable experience in terms of the modern product development lifecycle.
Replicas of Famous Figures and Historical Locations for History or Social Studies Class Teachers can 3D print busts of famous figures so students can experience them in three dimensions. Historical locations such as Stonehenge, the Great Pyramids of Giza, the Roman Colloseum, the Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty, etc. can also be printed. The Smithsonian Museum has undertaken a massive project of 3D scanning their collection of over 137,000,000 artifacts and making them available online, here: http://3d.si.edu So, for example, you can now download a detailed life mask of Abraham Lincoln, made a day before his 56th birthday, in the STL file format, ready for 3D printing!
Architecture and Interior Design
Have students design a house or other architectural structure, or design the interior of a single room, then 3D model and print the design. There are software tools available that make these kinds of designs easy to create with mostly dragging-and-dropping components where you want them. Just make sure to pick a software package that can export to an STL file for printing. For example, http://www.sketchup.com/, which has a plugin available to import/export STL files, available here: http://extensions.sketchup.com/en/content/sketchup-stl. They also offer K-12 grants and deeply discounted educational pricing.
Digital Sculpting Art students can explore digital sculpting, using software to virtually sculpt a model, just as they would if working with clay. For example, Autodesk makes many of their excellent applications available free of charge to students and educators. Go to http://www.autodesk.com/education/free-software and check out 123D Sculpt if your students have access to iPhone or iPad devices. They can create a model by “pushing” and “pulling” on a virtual lump of clay, then export the file for 3D printing. It’s a very easy and intuitive way for kids to get started with 3D modeling.
We have to think about the profound value and potentially life changing experience that these types of activities can have on students of all ages. Then ask ourselves, in today’s schools, where the focus is on standardized testing, can we make room for something like this? I certainly hope so because 3D printing will be a part of our future whether we like it or not. Our kids will need to learn about this new technology just like they will need to know how to code. It’s important to really think about what education is, what it should be, and make changes that are child driven, rather than financially driven. Technologies like 3D printing are giving us an opportunity to provide our children with an exciting kind of experience-based education that has the power to truly inspire them to achieve great things.
Here are some videos showing students involved with 3D printing. Notice how genuinely interested and engaged they seem:
I had a terrific experience today. Yesterday evening, my 10-year-old son came to me with a drawing of a display stand he wanted to make for his favorite marbles (yes, it’s okay to laugh at that). The marbles were of different diameters, and he wanted the stand to have a square base with cylindrical towers to hold each marble. He had very specific instructions on how tall he wanted each tower to be.
So, he went off to bed, and I started to learn some 3D modeling (which I have never done before, so please don’t laugh at my almost non-existent modeling skills).
Here’s what he gave me (I added in marble measurements so I’d know how to size each tower):
And here’s what I modeled:
So, I started it printing and went to bed myself. When we woke up in the morning, this was waiting for us:
Zachary (my son) arranged his marbles and found that everything fit perfectly!
The look on his face when he saw this was priceless! I could tell that this made a huge impact on him. He had an idea, sketched it out, and then we brought that idea into physical form – from his head to the real world in just a few hours.
My wife and I homeschool Zachary, and it’s clear that 3D printing is going to be an important part of his education. It’s no wonder that schools and libraries across the country are installing 3D printers. Much like kids in my generation grew up with computers, Zachary’s generation is going to grow up with 3D printing. The thought of having a new idea for an object and then printing out a physical model of it may seem somewhat magical to us, but it will seem very normal to our children. Over time, this will help us as a society to become co-creators, rather than mere consumers.