With 3D printing making a splash in industry, schools are beginning to invest in the technology to help prepare students for future careers. But with the cost relatively high and the technology still emerging, is it worth handing over much-needed funding? Here, we review the Dremel DigiLab 3D45 model to explore whether 3D printing is a realistic avenue for schools to explore.

Armed with a scraper and two sticks of purple glue, our tech-minded colleague Frank McLaughlin set up the DigiLab, which was generously loaned to us by Dremel (part of the Bosch group). Dremel launched their DigiLab 3D45 at the BETT show recently because it has been designed specifically for schools. 

Frank had a good knowledge of how 3D printing works – although he had never used a 3D printer before – and informed me that a spool of plastic thread (or filament) was responsible for printing the 3D objects. So we loaded the spool into the side of the machine and threaded the filament into the correct parts. Dremel informed us that an environmentally friendly, plant-based plastic, PLA, can be used with the DigiLab.

Creating awe and wonder in DT

On reading the easy-to-follow, relatively short set of instructions, we set about choosing a design to build. The touch-screen menu allowed us to easily navigate to a frog model, which the printer informed us would take 1hr 30mins. We took the purple glue stick and lubricated the glass platform to avoid the object from being welded onto the plate. Over the next couple of hours, with the lights dimmed and the printer illuminated like some kind of plastic-melting UFO, staff from around the office bobbed in to express their awe and wonder. Thanks to its fully enclosed see-through chamber, we could see every stage of creation as the hair-thin strands of melted plastic build up the shapes, layer by layer. With cries of “It’s like magic!” and “What else can we make?” it’s clear to see the excitement levels in schools will be piqued with a 3D printer. The possibilities are endless and the only limits are the students’ imagination.

The end completion time was extended throughout printing, so the first job ran over our working day. Frog ended up remaining headless, however we were able to see the honeycomb effect within the body of the objects printed – which saves on filament and is fantastically strong. There’s also an integrated camera so students and teachers can monitor and control multiple printers remotely.

Dremel DigiLab illumintaed

Frank monitored the printing of the first object – while printing the machine should not be left unattended, something to consider when longer jobs are being built in school hours – and then began creating his own designs including a QA Education logo and a Euromedia heart keyring. As well as a few designs included with the printer to get you started, nets are available on the web if students want a quick start. Designing your own net can be done in a variety of software packages such as Autodesk’s Print Studio.

Cross-curricular potential

After using the printer and discussing the possibility of creating various objects, we realised that a 3D printer can be fully cross-curricular as well as improving DT and computing skills. Studying business? Make an object to sell at enterprise. Art student? Design your own decorative object. Future engineer? Solve a problem by building a solution. 

Dremel are keen to impress how important it is that pupils have a good knowledge of 3D design and build. John Kavanagh, Dremel’s global president, said, “3D printers have become an essential teaching tool as the world’s economies gear to the needs of the next industrial revolution. The Dremel DigiLab suite provides the tools and range to inspire children and give them the skills they’ll need for the workplace of the future. The DigiLab 3D45 is the first 3D printer designed to perfectly suit the school environment. It combines simplicity of use and reliability with the capacity to produce advanced designs at a price that schools can afford.”

Michael Miller, technology and computer science teacher at Otsego Public Schools in the USA and a Dremel 3D Ambassador, said, “The integration of 3D printing into the classroom, from design and technology to history, inspires students. The Dremel Digilab 3D printing product suite is perfect for introducing children to the basics of 3D design and printing, and enabling them to develop their skills from starting school to heading to university. 3D printing is a great way to close the disconnect between the skills we teach in the classroom and the world of work.”

QA Education checks out software, preparation and the scope for students with the Dremel DigiLab 3D45

Here, Frank gives his technical review and suggests how the 3D printer can be operated in DT lessons:Frank fills DigiLab with filament
• Set-up speed:
To set the DigiLab takes hardly any time at all. It is built for easy usage, all of it is pretty much self-explanatory. 
• Ease of use: 
The printer is almost plug in and print. It’s so easy to use, you just add the filament, hook the filament to the extruder, calibrate the glass platform (which is literally pressing a button) and you are good to go.
• Time: 
The DigiLab takes around five minutes to heat up before it can begin sculpting. The clock is not always dependable with sculptures sometimes taking up to an extra hour longer than expected. Despite the guesstimates the DigiLab’s speed, for what it prints, is impressive. 
• Display: 
The DigiLab utilises a clear and user-friendly interactive touch screen to display how long the sculptures will take to create. It also shows the temperature of the glass platform as well as the temperature of the nozzle.
• Noise: 
The machine is quite loud, as can be expected of a 3D printer, so may need to be sited away from pupils’ desks.
• Software: 
Works best with recommended files .g3drem and these can be created with relative ease with the Autodesk Print Studio. Just drop your STL file design in, and follow the simple instruction menu (import, layout, repair, supports, preview and finally export). 
• Design: 
Autodesk Print Studio’s lack of creative features makes it easy to use, although positioning nets can be difficult when changing dimensions. Try using Maya or Blender to create your models, then import them to Autodesk. Once you’ve created or downloaded a file you can add it to the memory stick provided (make sure to use the g3drem file exported from Autodesk as opposed to the .3ps file), plug the memory stick into the front of the DigiLab, find your file and click print. 
• Preparing the printer: 
Use a lot of purple glue! No matter how much purple glue is used, it doesn’t seem to be enough as it it can be difficult to remove the sculptures from the glass sheet using the scraper provided.
• Cost of production: Many models use a honeycomb structure inside. This is mainly due to the cost effective and strength of the material. When uploading your models to Autodesk at the preview stage, the software lets you know how much filament it will cost to print the model as well as the duration of printing. A filament can be bought from around £35 and are available in a range of bright colours.
• Conclusion: 
From beginning to end, using the Dremel is easy with little time needed to set up the machine. The model is extremely durable and not as heavy as anticipated. The quality and overall finish of the models is superb. There are no complicated parts or fragile elements and the Dremel is a sturdy, well-made piece of equipment – perhaps even pupil proof!

See dremel3d.co.uk for more information and full specifications.

Dremel DigiLab objects built by QA Education team

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