Building Skills with 3D Printing

Brian Wagaman has taught Woodshop, Engineering and Technology, and Advanced Manufacturing and Logistics. He also served as the Vice President of the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) for Indiana from 2016-2017. Wagaman focuses on giving kids the knowledge and skills pertinent to what they’ll experience in the world.

Taking Off with 3D Printing

Brian Wagaman’s classes were recently introduced to 3D printing when their school acquired an Afinia H400 and the Dobot Magician robotic arm. “I’m extremely impressed and excited about the machines,” explains Wagaman. “The students have taken off with them. The 3D printer has had nonstop use for months!”

Student 3D printed keyfob project
Students use the printer to solve real-world problems, like replacing a broken keyfob.

Wagaman is excited that students have gone from making simple shapes and parts to printing parts they can use in real life in just a matter of weeks. “For example,” he says, “a student’s key fob broke, so he 3D printed a replacement for it—and it worked. Another student made a fly fishing reel. Students are using 3D printing to solve real-world problems and for real-world situations. At this very moment, I’m looking at the 3D printer while it’s printing a lathe chuck for handheld drill,” tells Wagaman.

Some of Wagaman’s have also downloaded and printed files from websites such as NASA. “The students found and printed a ratchet that was on website. That connection to real-world applications was neat,” Wagaman explained. “They could hold a 3D print that was made using the same file as something that had gone into space! We printed off several, and it even evoked excited from kids who weren’t even in our class.”

3D Printing and “Soft Skills”

Wagaman recognizes that the Afinia machines have reinforced students’ geometry, math, and spatial concepts, like cartesian coordinates, as well as their ability to work with CNC and CAD. “These are really important concepts that industries are needing their future employees to understand,” says Wagaman. “They directly relate to careers that are waiting for students after school.”

Wagaman with the Afinia H400 3D Printer and Dobot Magician Robotic Arm
Wagaman with the Afinia H400 and Dobot Magician.

However, Wagaman has noticed that working with the H400 and Dobot Magician has also helped his students’ soft skills flourish. One impressive print the students worked on to enhance their soft skills is a full, working trumpet (pictured right). “It was a collaborative project, and an excellent way to get them to work together. They excited each other, checking in to see what the status of each print was. It was fascinating to see. Collaboration is such an important aspect of industry.”

The lessons didn’t stop there, of course. Wagaman also notes that students learn more about time management while 3D printing, as well. “They understand that they have a design that will take 3+ hours to print, and that they have to plan accordingly,” he explains. “Students these days live in a pretty instantaneous world, and 3D printing projects helps remind them that not everything is immediate.”

Students have even used the machines to help express their thanks. “Several students made a name plaque for the technology person who helped get their 3D printing up and running,” explains Wagaman. “I thought it was such a great project… using their knowledge of technology to express their gratitude.” Having these soft skills can help students go even further than mastering the hard sciences alone.

Challenge Leads to Accomplishment

“The Dobot Magician has been more challenging for students than the Afinia H400. It has really encouraged them to learn to code, without them even realizing they are learning coding!” exclaims Wagaman.

Students create gifts for loved ones using the Dobot Magician.
Students create gifts for loved ones using the Dobot Magician.

“They’ve been very interested in laser engraver aspect of the Dobot,” Wagaman states, saying the timing of having access to the robotic arm worked out perfectly, with many students using it to make wood engravings for their moms for Mother’s Day.

“The different aspects of what the Dobot can do—what tools you can put on it—is exciting. Students feel accomplished when they are able to solve their own problem. It sparks their excitement and they let their creativity run.”

Moving Forward with 3D Printing in the Classroom

Wagaman was pleased to see how easily the machines could be incorporated into the classroom. “It’s so awesome to open a 3D printer, initialize it, and go to town. Even with many, many hours use, our H400 hasn’t malfunctioned once,” shares Wagaman. “The durability, from a teachers standpoint, is fantastic and so necessary! I also really like that the H400 is mobile. I spend most of my time in the high school, but can easily bring it to the middle school to show them 3D printing, too.”

“I think there is a lot of great potential to build a teaching program around the H400 and the Dobot Magician that encourages students to work more diligently on CAD skills at the beginning of the year, so they can really get into more difficult projects as the year progresses,” Wagaman says. “The H800+ could be a great addition, too. Ideally, the school would consider purchasing several more 3D printers and Dobot Magicians to set up as stations.”

Overall, Wagaman can tell the 3D printing technology is something that truly enhances students’ love of learning. “I’m excited about their excitement. It isn’t led by the teacher. If I can get out of the way and let them explore, that’s a good way to teach. And that’s been easy for me with the H400 and Dobot Magician. The students keep wanting to one-up each other, and they fuel their own learning.”