So, your kid is asking for a 3D printer!
Various industries are already adopting this technology into their business processes. Even the healthcare industry is doing amazing things with 3D printing. The possibilities and opportunities brought about by using this technology seem endless.
Of course, does that mean you should get your kid a 3D printer of his own? Is it even suitable for children? What type of printer should you get? What about materials? How should we set it up?
If you’re wondering what information you need to know about 3D printing, then you’ve come to the right place. This guide should help you understand the basics of 3D printing and how to support your kid in his or her newest hobby/interest.
What is 3D printing?
3D printing is a technology that allows us to build objects from scratch layer-by-layer using specialized software and equipment. The materials used to “print” 3D models vary, ranging from plastics and paper to metals, ceramics, and sand. The type of material used will depend on what you want to build and the properties you want it to have. For example, with ABS 3D printing, you use the same plastic that is used to build Legos. It is a low-cost material that’s tough, non-toxic, and chemical-resistant.
How does 3D printing work?
There are a variety of techniques used in 3D printing. The method you use will depend on the type of equipment you buy and the material you’re planning to use. For example, if you want to use ABS, then you’ll need to buy a Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) or a Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) machine.
Regardless of what printer you buy, the process remains the same. First, you’ll need to create a design of the model on a computer using 3D modeling software like Maya or ZBrush. You can also download designs online from databases such as Cults 3D and Thingiverse.
When the model is ready to be built, the design can be sent to the printer. Typically, the printer extrudes melted plastic from a nozzle that is moved around by the computer. The model is printed one layer at a time; the printer will add a new one once the last layer has dried until the model is complete. This process is called additive manufacturing.
Take note that the time it takes to completely print a model will depend on the printer’s speed, the complexity of the design, and the actual size of the model. Little trinkets may only take 10 to 20 minutes, but be prepared (and prepare your kid as well) for the printing time to take hours.
Is 3D printing safe for kids?
Good question. There are some safety considerations that need to be taken into account. And depending on the age of your child, adult supervision may be required.
- You need to keep in mind that these machines typically use a lot of heat to melt the material. The temperature of the nozzle can reach up to 200 degrees. Some materials require the use of a machine that features a heated bed and/or a heated chamber. This means that your 3D printer is a potential burn hazard. Make sure to supervise the use of the printer and let your child know how hot it can get.
- Sometimes, small particles of plastic are released into the air. In addition, some materials give off an unpleasant odor when melting. For kids with asthma or other breathing difficulties, these things could aggravate their conditions. Wearing safety goggles and masks while printing is important. Keeping your printer in a well-ventilated area is also key.
- Some materials cannot be handled without safety gear. For example, the uncured resin can be irritating to the skin and lungs. In addition, it can be toxic to the environment. For this reason, you should avoid getting your child an SLA printer as there are too many hazards that need to be considered.
What can my kid do with 3D printing?
With 3D printing, there is no limit to what your child can create. They can print new toys or models of engineering marvels. One teenager used his 3D printer to create prosthetics for people who need them. Aside from the creative freedom that they will be able to explore with this technology, this new hobby can be a stepping stone for them towards a specific career such as engineering. Learning to use this tech so early in their life can only help them, especially since 3D printing looks to be one of the techs transforming our future.
Buying a 3D Printer
First things first. Avoid buying 3D printers that are marketed for kids. These machines are not toys; they are tools. Moreover, manufacturers of these printers will typically lock you into using their own materials systems which tend to be overpriced.
So, if you’re not buying that 3D printer for kids you saw online, what should you buy? The most popular and low-cost option for beginners is an FDM printer. You can easily buy one from Amazon for around $250. As for materials, you can choose between ABS and PLA (PolyLactic Acid).
We do recommend PLA for several reasons. PLA is a fully-biodegradable vegetable-based plastic material. It releases a pleasantly sweet smell when melted. And it doesn’t require a heated bed. Just keep in mind that it has a low heat resistance and can become brittle. But since it’s an eco-friendlier choice, it all balances out.