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I use this blog to post my own 3D printing activity. But for the past few months I’ve focused on writing up my experiences for publication and presentation in academic settings. My Flipboard magazine, Virtual and Real: Digital 3D, is regularly updated with news and 3D printing items of interest from around the Web.
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3D printing a case for a Raspberry Pi

My friend and colleague, Ken Luterbach, a fellow instructional technology faculty member at East Carolina University, took me up on my offer to facilitate fabricating an object of his own design. Just as I am experimenting with the 3D printer, Ken is experimenting with a Raspberry Pi (see for more information about that). Ken took on the challenge of designing a case for the Raspberry Pi.

Ken used SketchUp to render his design. It was Ken who explained to me how to export .stl files from SketchUp – It takes a little finessing to the basic SketchUp download, but overall it’s easy to do. Ken designed the case as two pieces (top and bottom) that fit together using small rods that are part of the top component inserted into small holes designed into the bottom component.

Here’s Ken observing his first print, the bottom of his Raspberry Pi case.

We were both pleased to see how well the Raspberry Pi unit fit into the bottom portion of Ken’s print.

Here’s Ken with both the bottom and top of the case he designed. The rod-and-hole part of the design did not work this time. The printer could not print either the holes or the rods accurately enough for them to fit together as intended (they were pretty small – we learned a great deal about the printer’s capabilities through trying this).

Here’s the finished product in action. The top and bottom are not secured to each other, but they do protect the Raspberry Pi unit. We’re calling this “Experiment #1” and, as time permits, Ken plans to try design revisions to see if we can print an improved case.

The top and the bottom of the case each took around 2.5 hours to print.

Fixing a Filament Flow Fail

It took hours of poking with metal rod…

I kid you not; I think  I invested about 6 hours of my time just poking the print head with the little metal tool that comes with the Cube 2.  Here’s why: I experienced a “filament flow fail” which means the print medium was not flowing through the print head; in attempting to print something the printer went through the motions, but no plastic was deposited on the print plate. I did some looking around online and found this, which was actually pretty helpful. The first attempts didn’t work, though. I wound up contacting our local Cubify sales rep, who did is his best to provide direction (primarily, pointing me back to the URL I listed above). He added that the tool is basically a straightened paper clip which gave me an idea – I found a clip thinner than the tool and used it to begin the poking process; a combination of the straightened clip and the original tool managed to solve the problem.

Here’s proof I’m up and running again (because I don’t want the administrative powers-that-be at the university to have a cow worrying about the printer’s health):


I followed the directions Cubify offered and did a small print test (a ring I’ve printed before).  Words do not adequately express how relieved I was to see the printer working again. I have to add, though, that experimenting with cutting edge tools almost always leads to at least some blood loss (he said with a wry smile) – I consider it my job to mess around withe the hardware enough to discover what problems others might encounter. I now know what to recommend to teachers who run into a similar filament flow fail problem.

Print Test #12 – Treasure Chest with Embossed Text

I’ve been experimenting with creating in Google SketchUp and exporting stl files front there. My first test, a treasure chest with the words “East Carolina University” embossed on it, was a bit a of bust. The top of the chest got kind of “wonky” in the print process. I tried a second test of the same file after running it through Photoshop and reducing its size by 20% and got much better results. I’m not sure which was more helpful, the size reduction or the Photoshop support (or whether it was just a bad print the first time for other reasons).

It’s happening, people!

I took the photograph, below, yesterday at the Staples in Greenville, NC. Apparently one may now purchase a 3D printer (exactly like the one with which I’ve been experimenting) at one’s local office supply store. This freaked me out a little: I think it’s wonderful that the technology is proliferating this way and at the same time I felt a little saddened that my printing activities are not quite as unique and special (at least locally). I’m reminded of my experience with personal computers in the 1980s: it was great to see their popularity rise, but at the same time it felt a bit strange to be explaining how to use them to just about everyone I knew. There’s an interesting emotional shift as a technology one has become intimately familiar with transitions from exotic to mundane. More importantly, I think this shift emphasizes the need for those of us in education to prepare students to make best use of volumetric imaging and printing technologies; soon they’ll be as commonplace as word-processing tools.


My second 3D Printing presentation: the Math Education Club

On Wednesday, November 6, I had the privilege and pleasure of making a presentation about 3D printing to ECU’s Math Education Club. I must admit I was surprised by size and enthusiasm of the crowd – I figured there might be a dozen or so folks attending; instead there were around 50 people (one professor brought her class; a number of other faculty members attended as well).

Math Flyer November 6IMG_0964

I set up the printer so that it was printing a small dragon half an hour before the presentation started (this was intriguing for folks who arrived early and allowed me to get a start on explaining how the printer works; the folks who arrived early could then explain many things to others as they arrived). After a description of 3D printing in general (during which I passed around sample printed objects) and a Q&A session, we printed a ring as I continued to answer questions. The hour’s time we had seemed to fly. The crowd was engaging and very gracious; I hope everyone there enjoyed themselves as much as I did.

Teaching 3D Printing for the First Time

Last Thursday I had the opportunity to serve as a guest lecturer for a technology-in-education class at East Carolina University. The course is designed for pre-service teachers: the folks I worked with were a group of 26 undergraduates, all of whom are preparing to become teachers.

I brought the 3D Printer over from another building on campus (taking it “on the road” is a bit nerve wracking).  I arrived about 40 minutes early to set up the printer and start a print run. Originally I was going to print a rocket ship, but the print failed twice (all I got were little rocket ship “feet” – one foot kept slipping out of place causing the print to fail). I wound up printing my treasure chest design, which worked well. I had the printer next to me, printing, while students settled into their seats. All students also had one of the lab iPads with 123D Design loaded onto it. The session was about 30 minutes long: we discussed how 3D printing works, what it’s benefits may be for K-12 classrooms (in particular with discussed the recent findings associated with academic achievement and spatial reasoning skills), and we explored creating volumetric objects using 123D Design.


It was an illuminating experience for me. I was intrigued by the number of questions related to 3D printing of human organs and food. Students seemed particularly curious about the potential to use 3D printers in creating body parts and meals. We also talked a fair amount about 3D printed firearms (I offset that discussion by making reference to the Buttercup the duck’s 3D printed prosthetic foot — I encouraged everyone to look at the full spectrum of beneficial and challenging applications of the technology).

It was great fun sharing 3D printing with a class. Everyone seemed interested and the discussions were lively. I’m looking forward to doing a similar presentation for the math educators club on campus in a couple of weeks.



Print Test #11 – A Ring Designed by a Colleague

For those who’ve been following the Print Tests, this is the second ring I printed using’s web app for ring-design. I invited a colleague (a professor in the College of Education) to create a ring of her own after she admired the one I made in an earlier print test. My colleague would have to described as a “super user” in terms of computing competence, so all I had to do was point her toward the app and she was able to generate a printable file in a brief amount of time. She commented that she was surprised at how easy it was to use the web app; she was originally concerned the process would take a long time just learning how to operate the software. The result was a nice-looking signet ring with the letters “ECU” placed diagonally on the signet.


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