Why We Use the Makerbot and How It Works

For our week long 2D/3D camp this summer, in the Cuyahoga County Libraries, we wrap up the week by showing the campers how to use Tinkercad. Tinkercad is a free online program where students can learn 3D modeling and build designs for 3D printing. During this part in our program, we also bring in a Makerbot 3D printer to demonstrate the process. On Thursdays and Fridays the campers get a run through on how to use Tinkercad so that they can design something to be printed on a Makerbot.

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A Makerbot is a desktop 3D printer that we can easily take from our office to the the libraries. Once a students has made a design on Tinkercad, we save the design as an .stl file and open it up in the Makerbot software. The Makerbot software slices up your 3D model into cross sections that are a fraction of a millimeter in thickness. Since the material the Makerbot extrudes out is so thin it cools instantly and transforms the hot liquid plastic into a solid mass.

The filament used by the Makerbot we have for the camps is PLA plastic. PLA is made from starchy foodstuffs, is decomposable, and is also a thermoplastic. A thermoplastic is a material that becomes malleable above a certain temperature and once it cools down returns to a dense form. The filament is wrapped on a spool and has the thickness of a spaghetti noodle. This spool then attaches to the back of the Makerbot where it is fed through a tube that holds it in place as a motor feeds the filament through an extruder. The extruder is a small nozzle that melts the material. The Makerbot builds up material a fraction of a millimeter at a time. The machine extrudes plastic in cross sections determined by the Makerbot software.

At this camp we challenge campers to think about what 2D is, what 3D is, and how they can go from one to the other. By the time Thursday hits, the campers have made drawings, transformed those drawings into 3D models, taken those 3D models and broken them down into simple shapes to make inflatables. This way when they start working with Tinkercad they are already familiar with the shapes the program has and have a good grasp on how to use those shapes to create a design. The Makerbot is perfect to wrap up the camp because it shows the students how to draw in three dimensions on the computer and then how that drawing can be 3D printed in the real world. This activity lets them use their imagination in a practical way that shows them a new world of possibilities.

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