UPDATE: Managing 3d printer workflow (how do you keep all the eager users happy?)

UPDATE: I originally published this in October of 2012 and it’s due for a refresh.  Here’s what’s changed:

1. I’m still using this Google form to accept tinkercad.com designs.  I have removed the color option for two reasons:

a. changing filament and organizing print jobs by color was increasing the time required for me to manage the print queue.   I’m now working in white ABS for consistency and efficiency.

b. want a specific color?  I find that spray paint yields a much better finish than the striations visible in a plain print.  The paint reduces the layering and, when combined with acetone treatment, results in better aesthetics for the final piece.

2. due to maintenance, wear and tear and onoging leveling issues our Makerbot has been retired.  We now have three UP PLUS 2 printers and they require that each print job is initiated from a computer.  Solution?  Three aging netbooks now feed the print jobs to each printer.  Note that once the the print job is underway you can disconnect the computer from the UP printer.   The idea of giving trusted students access to run print jobs still holds true – they can also serve as gatekeepers.

3. group print jobs: I work to group designs together in the same print run.  This reduces the time lost configuring, pre-heating and removing individual finished parts.  The same point below still holds true: if you trust your 3d printer to run unattended then start those 6 hour+ print jobs so that they run overnight.

ORIGINAL POST: Our classroom Makerbot arrived last May and it’s a rare day that it isn’t printing non-stop. The challenge that I continue to face: how to manage a shared 3d printer? My last class just generated 12 new designs!

In my last post I dreamt about adding a print queue as a feature to address this management issue. Until then, here’s how I manage a heavy volume of print jobs for our Makerbot.

Before I get into the step by step here’s some overall survival strategies that have been working for us:

  • trust your machine enough to run unattended. This is my choice for the 3 hour plus prints so that they run without needing any maintenance or babysitting from me. Be warned: I’ve come back the next morning to a hairball of ABS and a failed print. You should have calibrated your printer before you go out on this limb.
  • give trusted students access and approval to print. This has saved me. I’ve given one student an SD card, he downloaded RepG and has been helpful in facilitating his own prints as well as helping others.  I intend to increase the number of students with access.
  • be ready to visit your printer during off hours to start a new print OR, better yet, take it home.. Our printer has spent many a weekend in my garage churning out student work. It is portable folks. If you are running it overnight at school point a webcam at the printer and share the feed with your students.

Here’s the process that I’ve adopted this semester. It’s always evolving.

1. I ask my students to either:

  • use tinkercad.com and make their final designs public OR
  • create a thingiverse.com account, upload their final designs and make them public

2. then students use a Google form to share the URL (tinkercad or thingiverse )of the design as well as tell me

  • their name
  • desired color of print
  • name of their design
  • class period
  • email address
  • any other comments for me

This creates a print queue of sorts. I then review the Google spreadsheet and decide when I am going to print which design. It’s not always first come first served. I tell students that print time and color choice affect which design goes next.

Click here to see the form that I use.

3. Using the url provided by the student I then prep the object in ReplicatorG and export the file to the SD card for printing. This last step places me in the role of gatekeeper. This role isn’t ideal for me in the long term but it works for now. Ideally, I’d like to move more of this process to upper level students as they progress in their 3d printing experience. However, for now this gives me the opportunity to assess each design for printablity and share any necessary ideas for correction with students.

Other ideas: I’ve also experimented with a Twitter account (twitter.com/makerbot402) for the sole purpose of notifying students when their design is printing and to give updates. This is easy for me – shoot a pic on my phone and upload it it to Twitter. Done. Twitter usage at my school is still low so I’m not sure if I will continue this practice.

What’s working for you? Add your ideas in the comments.

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