Kimball Union Academy: Teaching 3D printing during Covid-19

The Covid virus has brought real challenges to 3D printing educators. In a typical 3D printing lab, students congregate around 3D Printers as they wait for their prints to finish. They share computers, sd cards and so on…

Giving a 3D printing class seems impossible these days with the new social distancing standards. Some schools have simply decided to close their 3D printing labs, letting the printers collect dust.

Others, like Kimball Union Academy, have decided to use AstroPrint to keep 3D printing in their curriculum. And, as we’ll see, this new need has led them to drastically improve the way they teach 3D printing.

Today we’re interviewing William Ayote, the director of Innovation and Design at Kimball Union Academy:

What challenges has covid-19 brought you?

“The biggest challenges COVID-19 brought me are: Distance and Isolation. With students 12 hours away we suddenly found ourselves in a position where we couldn’t do iterative design and project-based learning like we always had.

I know from experience the difference, for a beginner, between drawing an object in CAD and making it in the real world. That first prototype really helps students think in three dimensions. We also found a challenge with less accessibility to our makerspace, which prevents jobs from moving along and the prints from progressing.

With Covid I didn’t want an area that people congregated just to check on a print job. AstroPrint allows them to just check the camera feeds online. This also improved non Covid use, as our damages have been significantly reduced while also increasing the throughput of each device.

With myself and another “proctor,” it’s been much easier to keep track of prints, remove finished print jobs, and start the next item in the queue.  This all means increased efficiency. While we had only one printer for the start of the year, our throughput has been greater than the previous year where we had two. This is due to the fact that we can keep a printer working nearly around the clock.”

Increased efficiency and remote printing. What other benefits have you experienced with AstroPrint?

“All this lead to a subtle shift in mentality away from individual 3D printers and how to use a slicer, to more of a print farm mentality. Students spend more time designing their files than trying to learn the quirks of the various printers and slicing software. It also means fewer steps for them to get a job running as we aren’t juggling SD cards.

The key point I want to get across is this is scalable, something we struggled with when trying to go beyond a handful of classes. The downside is I’m using filament at a breathtaking rate compared to last year because of the increased usage. It’s a good problem to have.”

How AstroPrint improves 3D printing at schools

As William pointed out, AstroPrint didn’t just allow their makerspace to keep utilizing their 3D printers while students are at home. It also brought them two other benefits:

More productivity: An IoT system like Astroprint allows schools to shift away from individual printer thinking to a more print farm mentality. Fewer steps are needed to go from CAD to object, and 3D printers can be running 24/7. As we’ve seen, the difference is significant even for a school with just one or two printers.

Ease of use: Astroprint is easy to use. Students can focus on creating 3D files instead of dealing with sd cards, slicing software, etc. As William points out: “Most of my students just want to be able to upload a file, select a printer, and send it to a queue. I do make them slice their own designs with one of the pre-made slicing profiles if they are in an engineering class.”

Scalability: Astroprint allows schools to take 3D printing beyond a couple of classes. The platform allows schools to have a process and to have full control over who is doing what and when.