Overcoming Tech Issues

… with a 9 year old computer from Craigslist.

Many students come into the makerspace in the hopes of 3D printing something. It’s not too hard to take a file from an STL to a finished print within the span of 20 minutes, but then the student loses out on the joy of creating that STL file! This is a glaring problem for a self-funded makerspace- I just don’t have the money to buy a new computer to dedicate for use in the space right now. But, I found one on CL for less than $100, and it will do the job (plus it’s a nice big case that we can open up and swap out hard drives and memory when that time comes, too). The students loved seeing the inside working parts of that computer, because on their laptops they never really get to see what memory, hard drives, and motherboards look like!

Previously, when we started trying to use 3D CAD (computer-aided design) programs, we found that the chromebooks and the Pis just could not handle it, so we were stuck using other peoples’ STL files.

That all changed this weekend, when I was finally able to get my hands on a PC that was almost 9 years old, but did all that we needed to do in order to create a model from nothing and send to the printer via SD card. The process took just a few minutes for a student to make the model, we exported it, dropped it into Slicer, and had it on the SD card over to the printer in minutes.

Now, a student can come to the space, work on their model and prototype it that very day on that dedicated computer!

Raspberry Pis Baked to Perfection

Today we got 2 more raspberry pi’s up and running. Since it was everyone’s first time using the Pi, I put NOOBS on the SD card for them, and they took it from there. Some projects that we might explore involve learning Python as well as using the “Processing” tools. But first, we need to learn the basics of the terminal!

Intro to Terminal Commands
Getting Started with Minecraft Pi
Processing (a development environment)

All of these will also be available on the Links page, under Raspberry Pi.

How to Use the 3D Printer

This is a quick overview of the process for 3D printing a model. Consult this after you’ve been trained on the printer to remind yourself what you need.

First, you need an STL file. You can get these from Thingiverse or make it yourself in a CAD program (like Sketchup or OnShape).

Import that STL file into a program to generate the GCode. We will usually use Slicer, which is made by the same company that made the 3D printer that we currently use. Be sure that you select the appropriate settings for material and layer height. You can then “slice” the model and see the way that the layers are going to print. If you’re satisfied with that, then press “export GCode.” Name your file with the material, a description, and the estimated print time (i.e. PLA_hummingbird,_3hrs50min).

The GCode is the file that the printer will read, so export that GCode file onto an SD card and pop it into the printer. On the printer, click “print from SD” and find your file. Click on it, and the printer will print it!