3D Printing for Accessible Materials in Schools: Webinar Q & A

Presenters: Yue-Ting Siu (Twitter: @TVI_ting) and Mike Cheverie (Twitter: @mjcheverie). #3DA11y Webinar recording, PowerPoint slides, handouts, and final research report: http://diagramcenter.org/webinars.html#3D

Q&A Summary – April 30, 2014

  1. Question: “I want to know more about how a visually impaired student could be taught science and maths in an integrated class”
Answer: Please see handouts provided for phospholipid lesson plan and link to article on student at UC Davis. “Remember that sighted students can also be engaged in designing the 3d models for blind classmates — everybody learns!” –Josh Miele. “Our drafting department is planning to buy 3D printers for their department. Try and partner with others on campus! –Laurie Vasquez
  1. Question: “What is the website for the 3D printer in Pasadena?”
Answer: Bukobot.com
  1. Comment: “We have noticed that braille is difficult to produce with 3D printers. We had had best results when they are printed on a side surface rather than the top surface – the z-layer control is better for this.Contact for follow-up: Josh Miele, jam@ski.org
  2. Comment: “The GUI interface of OpenSCAD is not accessible. A blind person can use OpenSCAD in command-line mode…Using ALT, I have been able to operate a MakerBot using MakerWare. It doesn’t always work, but I have made a number of models.” Contact for follow-up:Robert Jaquiss, rjaquiss@earthlink.net
  3. Question: “How are these off-the-shelf printers different than the ones sold by American Thermoform that has braille fonts?”
Answer: 3D Tactile Graphics, a division of American Thermoform Corporation, is selling the Makerbot ($2199) and the Cubify Cube X ($2999). The information on the 3D Tactile Graphics website indicates that the Cube X comes with 3D Tactile Graphics Braille font. It doesn’t seem that the Makerbot comes with that capability. Another product offered by 3D Tactile Graphics is the 2Bot ($5995), which makes 2-dimensional tactile diagrams (e.g., relief maps) out of a foam material. Plastic filament for the Cube X printer sells at $99 for a 3.5-pound spool. Compare these costs to those mentioned in response to questions 7 and 13.
  1. Question: “For those people who don’t have a 3D printer nearby, how well do online services work, such as http://www.shapeways.com/ ? You upload your 3D file to their website, pay money and get the 3D product in the mail a while (a few days or 1-2 weeks?) later”
Answer: This system is definitely one solution. Some libraries are beginning to provide similar services, and the most progressive museums might have kits of 3D printed objects available. The downside to these solutions is that you lose the immediacy of being able to print and have the object available within a few hours.
  1. Questions regarding cost: “Is plastic expensive? Compared to the initial purchase of a printer?” “How much of this material is used per printing?
Answer: A 1-kilogram spool of ABScosts about $30 (ABS is the material used to make LEGO blocks). A 1-kilogram spool of PLA costs $35 to $40. The amount of plastic used in an object varies with the size and complexity of the object. As an example, a conservative estimate is that one spool of ABS may print between five to ten phospholipid models. That may seem expensive. However, keep in mind that, were such models commercially available, the same set of models would likely cost at least ten times the cost of the 3D-printed model. Also, 3D printing gives the creative educator a level of flexibility and adaptability not available at any price.
  1. Question: “In what ways have you used 3D [printing] in English Class and Social Studies?”
Answer: Regardless of the subject area, 3D printing can be used in cases where representation of an object cannot be adequately conveyed via description or a tactile graphic. For example, if the class were discussing an artifact such as a sculpture, this would be a great use of 3D printing a model of that sculpture. Remembering the principle of an object that is “too big, too small, too delicate, too dangerous” to hand to a student. For example, if the class were discussing the Roman Coliseum (something definitely too big to hand to a student!), a 3D-printed model of the building might be ideal.
  1. Question: “I am wondering about how to label tangible models in an accessible format…from the user’s perspective? How usable are models without descriptive labeling?”
Answer: Having the braille 3D printed on the shape is nice for labeling along the contours of an object. However, too much labeling can quickly clutter up tactile exploration of the object itself. Models without descriptive labeling would require some previewing and/or exploration alongside a peer. For more in-depth labeling, 3D objects can be made with a conductive layer that would allow for recorded audio labels that play when the object is touched. Audio labeling allows for more in-depth information without cluttering the tactile exploration. Check out conductive paint from www.touchgraphics.com. You could talk about Cam I/O, [a system from the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute] used to make 3D models interactive using MS Connect.” –Josh Miele
  1. Question: “What about the feeling that a material has – 3D printing is all the same, warm plastic feeling?”
Answer: Yes, 3D printed models do have the same plastic feeling so that is something to consider when printing out a model that relies on textural differences. If texture is important to understanding features of a model, for example a model of an animal with fur versus skin, it is very important that it is conveyed appropriately in the 3D printed object. It is crucial that any conveyance of texture is meaningful to what the model represents (and not a tactile interpretation of something visual, such as color). In other words, if you are 3D printing different textures to represent different colors, you must do so with caution so that the texture is actually relevant to what you are trying to convey. Otherwise, you are just creating a 3D printed version of a poor quality tactile graphic. “The Braille Authority of North America [BANA] has guidelines for creating tactile graphics” – Robert Jaquiss
  1. Question: “Did [Mike] and the biology teacher work together to design the parts you used for the lipid lesson? Did you design from scratch?
Answer: We designed the pieces for the phospholipid from scratch using the open source 3D modeling application called OpenSCAD. We considered the ease with which the students would be able to put the pieces together and how well the model pieces would represent actual phospholipids. We also wanted the assembled pieces to be able to connect to others to make a model of a phospholipid bi-layer sheet, which is the main component of cellular membranes. Future adaptations will include adjustment to allow the inclusion of models of  proteins that embed in the cellular membrane.
  1. Question: “Which one with quality is really the best? The lease option [Mike] mentioned…what type is on the lease? What are good printer options [besides Bukobot]?”
Answer: The lease option mentioned is for state-of-the-art industrial prototyping. It is expensive. It is a wish-list item. There are a few considerably less expensive options. In addition to the Bukobot, there is the Makerbot (about $2000), Tangibot (just under $1500), Cube X ($2500 to $4000), da Vinci (under $500), Cubify Cube 3 (undr $1000), and others. Several others are discussed at this link: http://www.tomsguide.com/us/best-3d-printers,news-17552.html
  1. Question: “How long does it take to 3D print, dry?”
Answer: The 3D print cools to the solid state almost immediately. Keep in mind that plastic is extruded in filaments, and that several parallel filaments make up a layer of the 3D object being printed. Each layer cools almost immediately. This process of building up layers into a three-dimensional object can take considerable time, depending on the complexity of the object and the capacity of the printer. Simpler objects can be printed in less than an hour. More complicated objects may take several hours.

Ideas that work.The DIAGRAM Center is a Benetech initiative supported by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (Cooperative Agreement #H327B100001). Opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of the U.S. Department of Education.

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