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PR-B class builds 3D printer

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Pine River-Backus (PR-B) High School students have built a 3-D printer, a machine they could use to print parts for other school projects.

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The project began in November for Duane Anderson’s Introduction to Engineering Design class. Led by senior Cody Wiese, the goal was to build a machine that could print parts for Project Lead the Way’s race car projects and robotics competitions from plastic.

“It’s a really easy way to make prototypes and parts. You can’t do everything out of metal that this can do with additive manufacturing. It’s a lot easier to take a design off the computer and press ‘print.’ It is made after a couple hours,” Wiese said.

“We decided to make one instead of buying one, which gave the students a good experience of learning how to do a lot of troubleshooting. It was a class project to get all the parts together, look it up to see what we wanted to buy, and go ahead and make it,” Anderson said.

There are commercial printers that do what Anderson’s class wants, but those machines can cost thousands of dollars. By making one, Wiese and his classmates were able to learn about engineering while building a machine, all at a greatly reduced cost. Anderson’s class researched and chose the Prusa Iteration 2 (i2), a 3-D printer build kit with everything they needed for about $500.

“If you were to source some parts for yourself, you could make one for about $350,” Wiese said.

Once the machine is built, the price to build another one is greatly reduced, because the machine can print the unique plastic cogs that make it work.

“You can print another machine, once you get this one going,” Wiese said.

Most of the remaining parts to build another printer can be purchased at a hardware store, but the future of 3-D printing at PR-B is unknown.

“That’s what the idea is. That’s what we were going to do. Being as we have a limited number of days (in the school year), we probably won’t get that done. I’m retiring, maybe the next year teacher will take it over,” Anderson said.

Anderson said the experience has been a very visual lesson.

“This is a great visualization tool. They make it in Inventor (a software program for 3-D printing), model it and they can actually see it in hand. You can make some very complicated parts. You can make ball bearings that actually move inside. It’s very interesting,” Anderson said.

Wiese and his classmates are on the verge of completing their first 3-D printer, but there have been some road bumps along the way. At first, they had problems with connections on a circuit board, then they learned that the extruding nozzle that melts plastic and lays it down in a thin layer doesn’t work properly. They fixed the circuit and are awaiting a replacement extruder, after which they hope the machine will be operational.

Anderson said even the dilemmas the class has experienced have been valuable in teaching troubleshooting.

Wiese said the machine is able to print details as fine as .5 mm.

Travis Grimler can be reached at travis.grimler@pineandlakes.com. Follow him at facebook.com/PEJTravis and on Twitter @PEJ_Travis.

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