3D Printing and How to Make Almost Anything

Jeffry Abel is an Engineering and ECAD instructor at Century College in White Bear Lake, MN. Abel has many years of 3D printing experience under his belt, and teaches both introductory, advanced students, and community members the art of 3D design, 3D printing, and making, through courses such as “How to Make Almost Anything.”

The Introduction to 3D Printing, and the Afinia 3D Printer

3D printing test
Abel’s class printed a test block to check the accuracy of dimensions of the printer.

As an Engineering and ECAD instructor, Jeff Abel is a 3D printing expert. “I began using 3D printers in 2004, to do prototyping for medical industry projects,” explains Abel. “When I began working for Century College in 2012, they already had their Fab Lab, which consisted of a number of tools, including some non-Afinia 3D printers. Right around the time I started is when we added the Afinia 3D Printers to our arsenal of equipment.”

“We did our research before choosing the Afinia 3D printers. We have a number of students who use the equipment, and one of the 3D printers we already had was very expensive in terms of materials,” said Abel. “Off the bat, we knew we wanted something that was more affordable to operate. When we saw the Afinia, we learned that the materials cost was very reasonable, as was the machine itself. After we used it, we were impressed with how well it worked, and we purchased a second one for the lab.”

Access for All

“As part of the Fab Lab charter, we are open to the community. If people are interested in using our equipment, they come in, and we work with them to get their stuff done. We’ve collaborated with a few local companies to create prototypes or samples. Usually, though, the community members sign up for our ‘How To Make Almost Anything’ class, and once they complete it, they have the knowledge to use the machines.”

“In addition to the Afinia 3D Printers, the Fab Lab also has two Epilog laser cutters, a ShopBot CNC router, plasma cutter, vinyl cutter, Microscribe CMM, 3D scanner, and two Modela milling machines that are used to make circuit boards. Of course, we are always looking to add equipment, as we can!”

How to Make Anything

Abel teaches a variety of students, with differing levels of experience with the Fab Lab machines, but loves introducing people to new technology. “Although some students have experience with other equipment in the lab, most of my students are new to 3D printing,” says Abel. “Our ‘How to Make Almost Anything’ class, which is part of our Digital Fabrication Certificate, is open to the community and there are no prerequisites, so anyone who wants to can come and try it.”

“We try to alternate class schedules to fit our students’ life-styles. In the fall, the course is offered during the day. In the spring, it is offered in the evening. Even if you’ve never used software or a printer, that’s fine,” Abel clarifies. “The course is set up so there is a specific project to learn the software and equipment and then a small project to print on that specific piece of equipment. In the end, they’ve learned it all. For the final project, students go through the invention and design process. They then make it on the best piece(s) of equipment they think they should use.“

“The 3D printers end up playing a fairly large role in the class, since it is often the student’s first choice, due to the flexibility and freedom that creating with 3D printing allows,” explains Abel.

Engineering: For Class, and For Fun

“All engineering classes use the Fab Lab to some degree, and all use 3D printing to augment their learning. Many of our engineering students have created different components on the Afinia 3D printers that they wouldn’t have been able to make out of metal.”

3D printed keychain
In addition to classroom projects, students print various items for fun, like this 3D-printed keychain.

“It’s great to see that other subjects have taken advantage of the opportunities 3D printing presents,” Abel says. “Students at Century College have created artistic sculptures and 3D-animated characters. “The character had articulated joints and everything! The student figured out tolerances and oriented it in a way that allowed for great mobility. It was a really neat project. Other students have used the 3D printers for hobbies, making chess pieces and parts for quadcopters.”

“We had a community member, who use to work at 3M, register for our class,” adds Abel. “He had worked around a lot of great technology but hadn’t gotten much chance to use it. Using the Fab Lab materials, he made a trunk for his granddaughter that had space for a doll, as well as a hanging section for the doll’s clothes. He made this with multiple pieces of equipment, including the Afinia 3D printer.”

Using Support, and Finding Solutions

“Overall, the printers work great for us. We’ve had slight issues with material separating from the perf board, and have found a few solutions that help. We’ve used Afinia 3D’s support team once, and although the lab manager was in charge of the interaction (I wasn’t as involved in the matter), it seemed to me to go very well: we sent in the unit, and we got it back, fixed, in a timely manner.”

“We’re very happy with the Afinia 3D Printers. We enjoy that it is easy to use, and gives the user lots of control. For the most part, you can just hit print. It’s easy for students to learn, and that is important when working with a variety of experience levels.”