A foray into 3D printing

A foray into 3D printing – Not for the faint of heart but a joy for the tinkering heart.

Surrey has purchased a higher end 3D printer that is currently being shared with 5 secondary schools.  I think it is incredibly powerful learning opportunity for a secondary student  to paper based learn drafting, transfer to CAD, transfer to 3D modeling, and then see their creation come to life on a 3D printer.  At close to $25000, this 3D printer is unlikely as a tool that will be integrated into an elementary classroom.

Fortunately, the Information and Media Literacy team is also piloting the Affinia 3D H479 series printer to be a cost attainable elementary school (approx $1500).   Orwell Kowalyshyn has been the lead on the project.  He arranged the purchase of the Affinia 3D H series through our BC distributor.  We have been putting it through the paces to see how it would fair in a classroom.

Orwell hosted a session at the CUEBC 2013 conference October 25.  The session in itself was a risk as it was in the conference program before the printer had even arrived.  Following Orwell’s conference presentation, I took the printer home for the weekend following the conference so I could explore further.

The set up was easy and www.thingiverse.com has lots to inspire first attempts.  My first attempt was to customize a lithopane. 

Kaitlyn 3D printed Lithopane
Kaitlyn 3D printed Lithopane

I was able to use a custom print of my youngest daughter that looks photo-realistic when held to the light.  I had to edit in Photoshop to have only a 100 x 100 pixel.  Interesting to see how other skills sets had to be applied. 

It worked reasonably well; however, the edge curled and the final layers didn’t finish crisp and created some burned ABS residue.  I also realized that the ‘option’ to invert the colours was required. 

Kaitlyn Positive Lithopane
Kaitlyn Positive Lithopane

(This is why I got a negative view when held to the light, instead of the proper view.)


I understand now why there is a checkbox in Thingiverse to invert the colours and get a lithopane to look proper being back lit.

Following the idea of customizing premade items in www.thingiverse.com, I tried creating a custom printed pen (that you insert a bic pen ink barrel).  At first it was larger than the 5 inch platform size so I scaled it.  Unfortunately the software messed up on the scaling and it tried printing in mid air off the side of the platform.  Even thought it was a failure, it was interesting to watch how it creates the raft, and then starts building up the layers.  (In general, you can print the objects as hollow shells, or filled with different densities.)

As that didn’t work, I tried another

customizable object and explored the available print settings. 

I chose a custom nameplate with a ‘loose fill.’  The fill is a fairly tight crisscross pattern. 

Nameplate for sd36learn
Nameplate for sd36learn

(Hollow fill is similar but with pea sized holes.). 

The nameplates worked well, but with handling the letters have started coming off so it no longer reads #sd36learn.  The quality of the print is also lower so we think there were problems brewing.


We believe there was something caught in the nozzle so the cat with Hollow fill here kept moving but the extruding gear just made noise and wore away at the abs filament. 

Cat was printed with the remain
Cat was printed until nozzle clogged


Well being a tinkerer at heart … I took apart the device.  A quick google and found a YouTube explaining the problem and solution.  I had to clear the gear that had filled itself with ground filament, making the gear useless.  Also cleaned out the nozzle with both acetone and a blowtorch (separately).

Upon returning to DEC, Orwell tried printing with the same problems so he did another nozzle cleaning with acetone and a blowtorch.  It has been extruding properly now.

Still some other issues though.  It appears with large based prints, the ‘Perf Board’ warps as the ABS cools and the nozzle caught printing this set of 4 scaled versions of the same cat.  The printer lost alignment and continued printing the remainder of two cats but off by about 1 inch (as you can see in the large cat below).  Amazingly it was able to actually print and do a reasonably good job without the starting raft, or other supports.

During printing the perf board warped and the print head stuck, then went out of alignment.
During printing the perf board warped and the print head stuck, then went out of alignment.


Started as 6 cats.  The nozzle caught one.  It was pulled off the platform.  (The other is very small.)
Started as 6 cats. The nozzle caught one. It was pulled off the platform. (The other is very small.)

Next was to be a model of the Eiffel tower.  It was an 11 hour job, but the filament kept catching on the feed spool.  It must have caught and stopped extruding.  (The thread tightened around the spool and would not roll freely.)  Especially with an 11 hour job, we need to know that it will continue to freely feed the abs thread.  With a little research, Orwell found some replacement parts for holding the feed spool.

We also noticed with longer jobs that the platform leveling screws wiggle loose.  This sometimes allows the nozzle to knock the object off the platform and then print strands in mid air.  Once again, Orwell found a part to print that lock the platform leveling screws into position.

I think we are now in a place of learning where most of the prints we chose work.  The next step is to expand on the pedagogical reasons why to print, and the ability for students to print meaningful objects.  What we have been working in so far is really the literacy level of 3D printing and not yet been reaching towards transformative applications.

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