Saturday, December 11, 2021

from Beetle Blocks to a 3D print

I finally got my hands on a 3D printer and have printed a type of project which I think will be suitable for classroom use.

When you talk to teachers who use 3D printers they say a big problem is that they are slow. This makes them impractical since all the students want to print.

But if you print 2D shapes with a small height then that is a lot quicker.

Josh Burker has an introductory 3D print project in his “Invent to Learn Guide to More Fun” book. A rotated heptagon makes an attractive pattern. Maths and Art combined.

Josh used Beetle Blocks to make the rotated heptagon project. It is SNAP-like code. First you make a heptagon block using 360/7 as the angle. Then you spin that block ten times on the z axis,
repeat 10 [rotate z by 36]. Some great maths learning here.

I spoke to a very helpful teacher in Melbourne (thanks Veena) who runs a class with eight 3D printers. She said that the Flashforge CreatorPro2 was a worthwhile buy. They run 24/7 at her school.

My school bought a Flashforge and I setup our new printer. A couple of YouTube videos were very helpful

FlashForge Creator Pro 2 IDEX 3D Printer Review and Test
IDEX 3d Printer Review | Flashforge Creator Pro 2

A boring test print which came with the machine worked ok:

Then I tried the rotated heptagon. It printed with a base and was too small. So I had to read the printer manual to work out the correct settings.

On the third try I was happy with the outcome.
The print took 20 minutes. This is quick for a 3D printer but still not quick enough for a classroom setting. I can see why Veena has eight of them.

This is my first 3D print where I wrote the code and did the printing.

Notes on software function and formats:
You can save Beetle Blocks files in XML format and STL formats. The XML (Extensible Markup Languge) is for going back later and editing the software which made the shape. The STL stands for Sterolithography or Standard Triangle Language or Standard Tesselation Language. This is probably the most commonly used format for 3D printing.

The Flashforge program that reads the STL file is Flashprint. You can edit the STL in Flashprint. eg. view it from different perspectives, move it, rotate it, scale it etc. You then send the file to slicer software which has other features, eg. Raft, enable Wall, enable Brim and much more. I had to read the manual to understand these important features. The Flashforge slicer software format is *.gx. It's proprietary. The generic name for these sorts of files is G-code. The G-Code tells the printer what to do, where to move, how fast to move, and what path to follow.

Burker, Josh. The Invent to Learn Guide to MORE Fun: Classroom Technology Project (2018)
The Beetle Blocks Primer pdf, 68pp
Eric Rosenbaum website. Eric is one of the makers of Beetle Blocks. A very interesting person. He is also a co-creator of Makey Makey and is a digital music innovator. Click on the Media link to see his talks and papers.

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