As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I didn’t come to STEM education via the traditional routes. I mention this now because the post that follows is the culmination of three years of working with the Makerbot Replicator 5th Generation in my classroom. It showed up in a box, fully assembled, without anything resembling a manual. It had a quick start guide. That’s it. As such I really could have used a post covering Makerbot Tips. Aren’t you lucky that I’m here to give you some tips and tricks to make this incredibly expensive, powerful, learning tool work well for you, and your students.
Note: What follows is not a recommendation to purchase the described technology. Further, this is not an offer to support this technology. Before purchasing any 3D printer, or other technology please be certain that you have researched the various options available, and have a plan for how you will use it. The following post assumes you either already have a Makerbot Replicator 5th Generation, and are looking for some tips & tricks to help you along, or you are already buying one. This is what makes my life easier as an educator that uses this tech in my classroom. Your mileage may vary.
Makerbot Tips of Utmost Importance
Before your Makerbot even ships you need to begin maximizing your chances for successfully implementing this solution in your classroom. The best way to do that is to budget for the service contract. If you don’t purchase a service contract for this device, the support you get via the warranty is awful. However, the support you get with the service contract is pretty great. Roll the dice if you want to, but I would never buy one of these (or any other $3,000 piece of equipment) without the service contract.
Additionally, make sure you order an extra Smart Extruder to have on hand. In my experience you will go through 1-4 extruders per year, and as a teacher you can’t afford downtime. With a spare you can just swap out the part, and get back to printing. A note about the service contract though is that they only cover three extruders per year so, count on paying for any after that.
Makerbot Tips for Care & Feeding
Your Makerbot will treat you well if you treat it well. If you do not pay attention to its basic needs it will die on you when you need it most. Job One for a long, and happy life with your Makerbot is understanding the leveling feature. On the Makerbot Printer you will see a menu of options. In order to level your build plate you will select “Settings” followed by “Calibration” followed by “Assisted Leveling” (this is how it is found as of this writing). In order to have the greatest number of successful prints you need to run this feature any time you change filament, remove the build plate, or have a filament jam. Once you select Assisted Leveling you just need to follow the on screen prompts.
Job Two is proper maintenance of your build plate tape. This is a largish section of painter’s tape that covers the glass of your build plate. Any time this “tape” gets ripped up you need to change it. Some people will tell you to use any old painters tape you can get at the hardware store. That’s probably fine, but I use the stuff Makerbot sells. It isn’t that expensive, and seems easier to use as there is no cutting involved. However you keep the build plate covered, you want to make sure that there are no bumps, bubbles, or wrinkles in the tape. Remember that this device has tolerances of down to .1 MM, it doesn’t take much of a wrinkle to mess things up.
Makerbot Tips for Getting the Most Life Out of Your Extruder
There are a couple of good tips for minimizing the number of extruders you use each year. In my classroom the 3D printer runs every day for most of the year. After a good deal of experimentation I am only going through 2-3 extuders per year which equals out to about $450.00 per year when my service contract runs out. The main way to keep the number of extruders you need per year to a minimum is to limit the number of times the hot end heats up, and cools down. The way to achieve this is to use the “add” feature in the Makerbot Desktop software, and to print small.
The add feature, found in the file menu or by clicking Ctrl+Shift+O allows you to add multiple files to a given print. What this means in practice is that instead of printing one file at a time, you can print multiple files and maximize your available build plate space. The fewer times you need begin a print, the fewer times your hot end will heat up and cool down which will make it last longer.
Printing small, involves what types of projects you have your students work on. Ideally, whatever project you have them doing will allow you to reasonably print a whole class worth of designs in one run. In my case I focus on Model Rocket Nose Cones I have also used snowflakes, and Christmas ornaments. In any of those cases I have been able to fit 10-20 unique designs on my build plate. It makes for a longer print, but minimizes heating and cooling.
Makerbot Tips for Limiting Filament Costs
One of the biggest frustrations most people have about the Makerbot is that you have to use their proprietary filament. It so happens that the filament they sell is on the expensive side, and the options are really limited to various colors of PLA. As such, it helps to limit how much you use. My first year teaching with my Makerbot I went through 16 rolls of Filament. After figuring out a trick or two that dropped down to 4.
First, I started printing hollow. This is achieved by changing the settings in the Makerbot Desktop software to having an infill of 0%. Depending on the specific project you may or may not be able to do this, but in my case it works great. Second, I started printing in low resolution. Low resolution makes the layers .3MM as opposed to .1mm. Fewer layers means less filament. Again, you need to figure out what will work for your particular lesson here, but with my model rocket nose cones this works perfectly. Third, don’t print things that require supports. In my experience using supports on the Makerbot is a recipe for trouble anyway, but no supports equals less filament as well.
I love 3D printing as a learning tool, but I have found that it can be frustrating for many teachers. It also causes me massive amounts of stress when I am giving a workshop on 3D printing, and I find a printer in disrepair. It bums me out because I know that once it starts breaking down it is destined for a storage closet, and that is a crying shame. Like any technology 3D printers take some getting used to, but once you understand it intricacies it is really hassle free.
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