Students learn the ABC’s of X, Y and Z

A beginners guide to using a 3-D printing machine

Story and photo by
GARRETT HARR
Outlook staff writer

Laurel High School’s NASA HUNCH program led by Linda Wright got a wonderful treat last week when Ken Whistler visited her students as a guest speaker. He brought along with him a $300 XYZ 3-D printing machine to demonstrate to the class different programs and ways of using the easily-obtained and affordable machine. The X and Y are the flat surfaces and the Z is the 3-D surface.
The NASA Hunch program at LHS already has their own 3-D printer, but Whistler wanted to show them something a little different.
He started by passing around a triangular-shaped object with two propellers coming out of each side. One of the propellers was broken off. A dog chewed it he told the class. The object was made out of PLA or Polyactic Acid. Polylactide is a biodegradable plastic made from renewable resources and commonly used for 3-D printing.
Whistler explained that the object in perfect form would have three straws attached to each propeller, with a hole in the middle, forming a small windmill. Instead of repairing, he would demonstrate how to make a new one with the 3-D printer.
The first step was to place the broken object on a piece of graphing paper. He then sketched it with a pencil on the paper to create a flat image of the object.
Next, he used a scanner on the bottom of his mouse to go over the broken windmill and transfer it into the 3-D printing program Sketchup, on his Macbook.
Once the broken windmill was in the program it was still a flat object. There are many different programs that can be used to make the image 3-D. Different students had different preferences for programs they felt were more user-friendly.
With his mouse, Whistler pulled the object upwards on the computer screen to make it appear as a 3-D image. The process resembled a crane pulling an object out of the sand from a side-angle view. Once the image was 3-D visually, the next step was to transfer it to the 3-D printer.
The machine then heated the PLA to 190 degrees celsius to create the material for the new windmill. The process took about 30 minutes. A thimble-looking mechanism inside the machine dashed back and forth producing the windmill replica from the bottom up. When finished the windmill’s surface appeared to have been made out of plastic honeycombs. Many layers of the small honeycombs combined to make the new windmill complete with three propellers.
The students in Wright’s class have made dozens of various kinds of objects using their 3-D printer. Students have made swords, squares and even fully functional wrenches. NASA sends the LHS program designs for the tools and then the students make them. The wrench, for example, was very light weight and would be much easier to use in space than one made of metal. The sword was one student’s passion project. Whistler had even made a 3-D replica of his own head with detail down to how his hair looked on that particular day. The program gives the students opportunities to do their own projects and/or those of NASA, he said.
Whistler will be back in a few weeks to do another demonstration for the class.

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