Leading the Way in STEAMM with Afinia 3D Printing

PLTW-logoTodd Hummer is a Satellite Teacher for Butler Tech, teaching a 7th grade Project Lead the Way STEAMM (science, technology, engineering, art/design, math, and medical) class. Butler Tech is a career-technical school for adults and high school students in Hamilton, Ohio.

Partnering with Butler Tech

“The partnership that our district has with Butler Tech is very exciting. Butler Tech offers classes to high school students, adults, and businesses wanting to educate their workforce. They also provide satellite programs giving 7th through 12th graders the opportunity to learn about engineering and the biomedical fields. Seventh graders are all encouraged to take the Project Lead The Way (PLTW) Design and Modeling class, and from there, have the opportunity to take Automation and Robotics as eighth graders. Once they are Freshmen, they can choose between an engineering track, or a biomedical track.”

Adding the Afinia

“When we determined we wanted a 3D printer, our Director of Technology, Dave Plotts, researched our needs and recommended the Afinia H480. Currently, we have at least 10 of the Afinia 3D printers in our district, and we absolutely love them. We started out with one teacher piloting how to use and incorporate it into the curricula. He really liked it, so after demonstrating it to the rest of us, all of the junior high teachers got one. I actually bought a second one to have in my classroom, because we use ours so much.

“I taught the 7th grade PLTW Design and Modeling class for about 2 years before incorporating 3D printing. Adding it to our curricula has really changed and enhanced the projects that we do. I’ve found that it is also very effective as an award system. If we have a competition, or if someone does something outstanding, I’ll let them find an .STL file online or design one themselves and they can print it out and keep it. I have made quite a few Minecraft parts for the winners! It’s a big motivator for many of the students.”

Using the Afinia

“Some of our projects involve rapid prototyping, where students are solving real-world problems while being introduced to 3D design using Autodesk’s Inventor. Students then have the opportunity to 3D print their solutions. I’ve noticed that using the 3D printers really motivates the students to want to design things correctly. Being able to hold their design in their hands help to make things click for them. They’ve learned to give more attention to tolerances and structural integrity.”

The Projects

A student's 3D-printed couch prototype.
A student’s 3D-printed couch prototype.

“For one of our projects, the students design furniture that has to meet certain requirements. For example, they would design a couch that has to incorporate a table that can be stored in, or on, the couch in a hidden storage compartment. Until they see the 3D-printed part, many students don’t comprehend how large or small the storage may be in relation to the rest of the couch or how they could structurally attach the table when needed. The printed object helps them understand the scaling.

“The big project at end of semester is designing and building a playground for an elementary school, to scale (1 foot = 1 inch), using various prototyping materials. Last year I required that each groups’ playground apparatus needed to have at least one part on it that was 3D printed. These need to function like they would in real size, and the 3D-printed parts helped them do that by producing parts that couldn’t have been made otherwise. For example, in the past, it was tough for students to make a well-functioning merry-go-round. It was difficult to have the tolerance that was necessary with the tools we have available, but now that they can 3D print parts, the merry-go-rounds have become much less of a hassle.”

Going Above and Beyond

A hook, designed by Hummer's student, to hold the students' ear protective gear.
A hook, designed by Hummer’s student, to hold the students’ ear protective gear.

“We’ve also gone beyond our typical projects to solve various problems around the school. We’ve done projects for custodians, like replacing old locker parts. The students used micrometers and recorded the specifications on sizes, then printed out new handles and hooked them up to locker, making changes and adjustments as needed. We’ve probably had to make 15 different edits to have that part fit just right, but that doesn’t discourage them. We make the change and 15 minutes later they have another part ready to try.

The hooks in action.
The hooks in action.

“In addition, I have a set of ear protection headphones, and no good way to store them, so I challenged kids to design hooks for me. The students got excited about the project. The caveat was that it had to relate to our class or school, since we have the ability to customize them. One kid designed the school logo into the hook and they’re unbelievable. I printed a bunch out and now they are all hanging the in the back of the room, and look incredible! We’ve discussed 3D printing things such as key chains and selling them to fund raise money for the school, or maybe even for another 3D printer!”

The Results

“The biggest benefit of having the Afinia is that it drives their motivation to use the 3D CAD software and to make sure that everything is sized properly and engineered correctly. They start in inventor, work in teams, come up with designs, print them, go back to designing to fix/change things, then the ultimate prize is building a larger scale prototype.

“Almost all of their designs change once they see their 3D-printed part. Having a tangible item that they can feel, move around, and see, they’ll identify problems with the current model, or it will even spark new ideas. A lot of times it turns into being a cyclical loop back to designing after they see the 3D print, which is what we are going for with the design process. Overall, the quality of the projects has improved immensely since they can see their idea so early in the process.”

The Hard- and Software

“The Afinia 3D printer is a little workhorse. It just keeps running. I’ve talked to teachers who have tried other printers and they are either always waiting on hold with support, or things won’t print properly. I’ve had very few issues. The machine is very user friendly and the software is great!”


“The Afinia support is wonderful, too. If I call, I talk to someone in person, which is very helpful. I’ve used the website email submission, as well, and got an email back an hour later helping me with an order I wanted to place. The support team has been great – you can tell they love 3D printing and what they do. Whenever I call them, they make suggestions about using different filaments, glass build plates, or other little tricks and tips. They always go above and beyond what I’m calling for!”