Some of the best advice I’ve ever got about troubleshooting my 3D printer was simply this: “think like an engineer.”

Many people who read this blog are involved in education in some way. Whether you work in a K – 12 classroom, a post secondary institution, after school program or a makerspace, most people are interested in kids and their learning.

Problem solving and trouble shooting printing problems doesn’t need to be just a nuisance. In fact, they can be a huge opportunity for your learners to gain new skills. One of the reasons that I am so impressed with 3D printing in learning spaces has to do with all of theĀ  different entry points. Some kids are designers and creators who love to make new objects. Some people love the software, while others live to play with the hardware of the machine itself. There is no reason that all of the students you are involved with have to play all of these roles. For example, I’ve heard of classrooms who have design teams and trouble shooting teams.

These seventh graders in New Jersey, once they have finished this build, will have a lot of experience with their Simple. When things go wrong, they will have all of the knowledge they need to start troubleshooting.

7thgradebuild

Thinking like an engineer means working through your problems in a step by step fashion. It may mean keeping a log book or a spreadsheet to track changes you have made to the settings of your printer (both successful and unsuccessful). Thinking like an engineer involves the scientific method that we love to talk to our students about. What has changed? What are the effects of that change? Lets change one single thing and note what happens. Having a 3D printer in your classroom brings these kinds of questions to life.

When you are troubleshooting your prints, there are a number of things that you need to consider:

1.) What are the settings on my software? What have I changed? What needs to change? (remember, one thing at a time and then note what happens!)

2.) Has my hardware changed? Does it need tightening or adjusting? Have I changed the location I am printing in? (changes in temperature and humidity can cause parts to shrink or swell, creating printing problems)

3.) Am I using different filament? What happens when I swap it out with something else? Unfortunately, there are many different qualities of filament and not all are equal. I’ve seen pretty dramatic differences in print quality due to simply changing the filament that I am using.

A valuable tip is to keep files for a few small objects around. Any time you make changes to your printer, print one of these objects to see what changes in quality you see. It’s frustrating to make a few changes and then start out printing a large object, only to have it fail because of the adjustments that you made.

If you have a printer in your learning space, put the kids to work. Many kids are highly motivated by technology and 3D printing so hunting through bulletin boards for answers and slowly adjusting settings on printers and software is interesting and exciting for them. This is the learning that we all want to see in our classrooms. This is math and science at work in the real world.