The World is NOT flat, it is round.
“When Columbus lived, people thought that the earth was flat. They believed the Atlantic Ocean to be filled with monsters large enough to devour their ships, and with fearful waterfalls over which their frail vessels would plunge to destruction. Columbus had to fight these foolish beliefs in order to get men to sail with him. He felt sure the earth was round.” –Emma Miler Bolenius, American Schoolbook Author, 1919
Whilst this article is not related to Christopher Columbus, or sailing for that matter, the quote above does work as an analogy for my views on how we need to look at the way we teach design and the way we use 3D Printers in school.
Sheets, Planks and Donnelly Boxes
I can only speak of, and criticise my own practice, but since most of the material that we buy in my department comes in sheets and planks, it is no wonder that lots of the pupils end up making something that resembles a box. Don’t get me wrong, many pupils have made mighty fine boxes…..they have produced Memphis Clocks, Art Deco MP3 docking stations, De Stijl lamps and desk tidies. I have been very proud of them all at the time, but they have been boxes at heart.
If ever a pupil wanted to make something that looked more organic (heaven forbid), we have done so, but we have wasted quite a lot of material by layering up, sanding away and discarding sometimes as much material as we end up with!
Things got so bad with boxes one year, pupils in one of my classes used to go and ask my technician if they could have a ‘Donnelly box’ (the name was given by the pupils, not me). They were then given four lengths of pine that they could join together to hold a circuit and battery. Once they had the ‘Donnelly Box’ and circuit securely fixed in place, they could then start to think about how to disguise the box so it looked like their own. Normally acrylic was cut and added to make a phone holder or clock, the corners of boxes were sanded, MDF was added, then primed and painted….the ‘Donnelly boxes’ looked great in the end, but they were still box shaped monstrosities that were far too big for their intended use.
Be more like Christopher Columbus (A picture of Christopher Columbus?? I am not sure about photo copywrite?)
With this in mind, I feel that I have had to become a little bit more like Christopher Columbus and am trying to challenge pupils to move away from ‘flat’ (and monsters) and think round/curved/organic.
I sometimes blame the way pupils are taught to design in the first place for the box shaped designs and products I see. When we encourage pupils to draw something that resembles a 3 dimensional sketch they find it hard.
The process of teaching 3 dimensional sketching often starts with the use of isometric paper or a 3D drawing aid to draw a box or crate. Once the pupils have their box drawn they are then asked to use the box as a guide so that their 3D design can fit inside, commonly known as ‘crating’. I have seen pupils spend so long getting their initial box projected correctly, I can’t help thinking that it is no wonder they are happy to actually build a box since the one they have just drawn looks so neat!
I am very glad to say that the ‘Donnelly Boxes’ are well and truly gone.
Additive manufacturing in the form of 3D Printing and a new approach to design development has made way for parts to be designed by the pupils for the projects they are making. Simply by making specifically designed parts, e.g. a speaker holder, battery compartment and head phone wrap, the pupils have really had to design and go through a development process with more rigor than in the past where everything was just put inside a box that was oversized.
Projects shapes are now more appealing to the eye and function better because stock size materials have not been the starting point for the design. The starting point is now a thorough product disassembly of standard components so that the pupils’ projects function around the parts of a product that cannot be changed.
Blue Foam and Traditional hand Tools
Using the context of a docking station.
Many pupils in the past have soldered together their pre bought Amp Kits, put the PCB in ‘the box’ and then glued the speakers to the back of a laser cut piece of acrylic so that a speaker grill was produced.
There is a real lack of design with this approach because the speakers were just smeared with epoxy resin and fixed to the acrylic with no real design taking place with regard to fixing the speaker properly or designing something around the speaker itself.
My simple strategy now is to give the pupils a speaker, a chunk of blue foam and access to a selection of traditional hand tools. The pupils must make a shape that fits the speaker perfectly first, and then focus on shaping more of the foam so that the speaker holder has aesthetic appeal. (Photo of a speaker inside blue foam)
- The pupil drills a hole in a piece of foam with a forstner bit that is large enough to take the magnet of the speaker.
- Then the foam is cut through the centre of the hole to give two symmetrical parts.
- More foam is removed so the speaker can fit in either piece of foam.
- The two halves are glued back together do the rest of the shaping can take place.
When sticking blue foam together we use ‘Gorilla Glue’. One half of the foam has the Gorilla Glue on, the other is wet with a damp paper towel. The two halves are held together with masking tape until the glue has set.
Once the speaker is in the foam, and the rest of the foam has been shaped sufficiently, the model is then carefully drawn on a 3D CAD Package (we use Autodesk Inventor) so that a 3D prototype can be printed.
Once specific parts have been 3D printed and developed you will be in a position where you will have an attractive holder/stand for your speaker, a battery compartment, head phone wrap and even a phone holder. The temptation here might still be to make a box to put these things on to so the PCB can be hidden within the box.
To get around this issue I have had some great products made where pupils have simply layered up some laser cut 5mm acrylic with compartments made by removing sections to hold a PCB and battery. This can be done by using just four layers of acrylic so that the final product remains compact. To develop the product further I have added a simple PIC circuit in the acrylic case so that a pattern of flashing LEDs can be seen as the MP3 docking station is working.
Misuse of 3 Printing
When people first get a 3d printer there is a temptation to print anything and everything you can. Mostly commonly I see iPhone cases or Eiffel Towers from an STL download site used in the first instance.
The real fun and excitement though comes from printing your own 3d parts that you have designed for a purpose; this is where the real learning will take place for the pupils too. Many teachers I speak to worry about the time it takes for a product to get printed. I can see their point as some large parts may take 4-5 hours to print. Whilst this seems slow going at first, once the initial excitement for printing Eiffel Towers has died down, you will be surprised how straight forward it is to get classes to have 3d printed parts.
Within a Year 11 class it is unlikely that every pupil will be ready at the same time to print a part out, this already paces the process for you.
Then within a class there are the ‘super keen’ that will come and see you in the morning before school or at the end of the day to ask if they can print out their STL file. Since you can leave the printer running during the day or overnight it is as if GCSE work is being produced without the mess and chaos that can take place when a whole class are manufacturing in a workshop. I was surprised myself at how easy it was to get through heavy use of a 3d printer with Year 11 this year. Most prints were added in the morning and end of school, with very few being set up in lesson time. This has worked with the three classes, 60 Year 11 Product Design students all printing roughly three parts each.
Once you are used to using 3d printing in projects it can be easy to over use the printer and neglect the traditional skills that encouraged us all to start teaching Design and Technology in the first place. I think 3d printing is exciting and leads to amazing looking and functional projects, but I do believe it should be used when needed rather than needed to be used because it is there. My advice would be to start by printing a part for a project, rather than printing a project.