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Grant Mackenzie

3D printing a stress-free Xmas

By | Design, Stuff and Things | No Comments

No Christmas is complete without a mad dash for presents in the final few days. If you’re like me and have left shopping to the last minute, there’s really no alternative to an exhilarating, stressful day of retail shopping to guarantee you can deliver on the big day itself.

But this doesn’t have to be the story. In fact, why buy presents at all? If you have a 3D printer, why aren’t you making them? You don’t need to design your own presents. That’s far too much effort in the run-up to Christmas. Instead, you can download any number of free gifts from online libraries like MyMiniFactory or Thingiverse. You can even personalise the models you download with free software such as Microsoft’s 3D Builder to make your gift even more personal.

The gift you make doesn’t even have to be good. The fact that it’s been 3D printed will be enough to blow the recipient away. And isn’t it the thought that counts anyway?

If you own a 3D printer, let it help you de-stress your Christmas and save a packet in the process. 3D printing your own gifts is fun and extremely cost-effective. What kind of bracelet could you buy for 47p?

xmas-2016And if you don’t own a 3D printer, perhaps you should consider making one of your New Year’s resolutions to involve yourself in this exciting, liberating technology. Robox recently won 3D Hub’s award for best “Plug ‘N’ Play” 3D printer in the world for the 2nd year running. Anyone can become a maker, especially with Robox.

Robox is the 3D printer of choice in libraries

By | Libraries, News | No Comments
 

Rebecca Gunn, Children and Families Development Officer for East Dunbartonshire Leisure and Culture Trust, works with a 3D printer in the William Patrick Library in Kirkintilloch, Scotland.

 

The Scottish Library & Information Council's 3D printing project is in collaboration with the BBC's Make It Digital initiative.

 

Taunton Library offers an open and friendly community space to support budding entrepreneurs, small businesses and creative minds

     Copyright 2016 Scottish Library & Information Council
 

What is the purpose of a library? Although the answer may seem obvious, consider the fact that many people had their first experience of the Internet in a library. Today, with computers and free Wi-Fi coming as standard in most public libraries, they have evolved to become much more than buildings containing collections of books.

Public libraries are the most popular civic resource that local government offers. They are now community centres where people can connect not only with authors but with each other and the wider world. It is in this community spirit that a growing number of libraries are beginning to offer public access to cutting-edge 3D printing technology.

The case for inclusion of 3D printing technology in libraries is compelling. Whether we’ll all have 3D printers in our homes in the future is up for debate, but there is certainly no question that 3D printing will play a much greater role in our day-to-day lives in the years ahead. Products are being developed and even manufactured in ever increasing numbers with 3D printing technologies. Individuals are now running their own businesses armed with Robox to design and manufacture custom, bespoke products (Chompworks is a great example). Children are being taught in a growing number of primary and secondary schools with 3D printers to help inspire design creativity and improve student engagement (Robox is also the #1 choice in schools). With ready, free access to computers and the Internet, libraries are surely the best places to provide wider public access to this game-changing technology.

Providing access to 3D printing technology is also a fantastic way to get people through the door and excite the younger generation. And once engaged, people will get to see some of the other new and exciting services being offered by many libraries. Public libraries in Scotland are already offering services such as coding clubs for 9-11-year-olds and innovative projects in England such as Glass Box in Taunton Library are offering open and friendly community spaces to support budding entrepreneurs, small businesses and creative minds. 3D printers could also act as an additional revenue stream for libraries in the future to support the costs of consumables. (Robox advises how much a print job will cost before printing.)

Scots know a good thing when they see it

I’ve written previously about Robox being part of a UK-first 3D printing programme in primary schools across the country. Now I have the pleasure to report that, after careful consideration by the Scottish Library & Information Council (SLIC) detailed in their report, 3D Printing in Scottish Public Libraries, Robox has been selected for rollout in Scottish libraries too.

After some positive early 3D printing experiences in a small number of libraries, SLIC made a successful bid to the Scottish Government in 2015 to expand and develop this growing area of interest and skills development. SLIC’s £76,000 3D printing project is now being rolled out across Scotland to all library services to improve access to this exciting new technology and encourage creativity in communities.

The inclusion of 3D printing activities is helping libraries in Scotland support the recommendations in a report commissioned by the Scottish Government in their vision for public libraries, Ambition and Opportunity, A Strategy for Public Libraries in Scotland 2015-2020, in a number of key areas:

Each library service has appointed a 3D Printing Champion to promote and support 3D printing activities and develop bespoke projects within their local communities. Feedback on the projects has been overwhelmingly positive so far. Such activities fit with SLIC’s vision for libraries in the 21st Century and help ensure they remain exceptional value for money, where every £1 of public money invested in libraries generates up to £8 of benefits to the communities they serve:

Realising Ambition & Opportunity – Celebrating One Year of Achievements from SLIC on Vimeo.

Pamela Tulloch, Chief Executive of SLIC comments: “I believe 3D printing in public libraries offers huge potential for local communities to learn and create.  Thanks to additional funding from the Scottish Government, more people will have access to this exciting technology. Who knows what it might lead to in some communities – the possibilities are endless and ground-breaking ideas can come from the most unexpected places.

“This is just one of the innovative projects underway in libraries across Scotland to meet the aims of the public library strategy, which we launched last year.  A key aspect of the strategy is to ensure libraries reflect the needs of modern communities. The 3D printing project is an excellent demonstration of the ability of libraries to adapt to the changing needs of communities, ensuring they remain relevant in an increasingly digital world.”

I’ll be delivering a 3D printing workshop in Taunton Library on 28th October between 2pm and 5pm when I’ll be offering a demonstration of free design tools and Robox itself. If you’d like to see 3D printing in action at the Glass Box, get in touch and come along!

TechSoft: “an amazing machine for such a low cost”

By | Education, News | No Comments

We’re very pleased to see leading education specialist TechSoft promote Robox as its No.1 choice of 3D printer for schools in their 2016-2017 Product Guide.

TechSoft was founded in the mid-1980s and soon established itself as a market-leading supplier of CAD and CAD/CAM systems. The TechSoft team have gained great insights into the technology needs and requirements of education in the years since and began supplying 3D printers to schools in 2004.

All of TechSoft’s sales and support staff are either ex-Design and Technology teachers, graduates in Design and related fields or qualified engineers. This means that they not only have a wealth of practical understanding but also understand the subject-specific issues teachers face on a daily basis.

TechSoft’s experience of low-cost 3D printers over the years allows the team to conclude that Robox “stands out from the crowd for accuracy, reliability, cost-effectiveness, ease of use and safety”. We couldn’t agree more. Thank you, TechSoft!

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03TechSoft
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Why Robox is making such an impact in education

By | Education, News | No Comments
 

Blackfield Primary School

Year 6 pupils use Robox to learn about insect anatomy.

 

Complexity made simple

Robox now supports both single and dual extruders with its new dual-material upgrade module, allowing even more complex geometries to be printed with ease.

 

Inspiring a new generation

A Year 4 class in Blackfield Primary School uses Tinkercad and Robox to create stationery organisers for a school project.

 

Mendip Studio School

Year 11 students discuss their GCSE projects.

 

Ashlyns School

A student upgrades his AS-Level project with Robox.

 

Safety and Quality

The interlocking safety door prevents accidental injury and maintains a stable printing environment.

 

FAWE School, Rwanda

Students from Writhlington School provide 3D printer workshops to Rwandan students.

When I first used a 3D printer in 2005, Stratasys and 3D Systems were the only players in town and the costs of their systems were truly eye-watering. The Stratasys Dimension BST we used then cost over £19,000 and reels of filament over £200 each.

In the decade since, key 3D printing patents held by those once pioneering manufacturers have expired and the open source RepRap project has triggered a wave of desktop 3D printer innovations. The cost of 3D printing technologies has now plummeted (Robox costs less than £1,000 with reels of filament under £30 each) at the same time as we’ve seen significant advances in speed and capabilities – thanks also in part to the recent proliferation of very high quality, but totally free, 3D modelling tools. The technology has become much simpler, more affordable and therefore more accessible to everyone.

3D printers are fast becoming staples of secondary school D&T departments. Our work with the James Dyson Foundation is seeing us develop some truly exciting and innovative STEM programmes aimed at encouraging students and teachers to use 3D printers and inspiring them to think creatively about design and technology. While our work has initially focused on programmes in secondary schools, our efforts to help stimulate young people are now leading us to help develop new programmes with partner schools at even earlier stages in the education curriculum.

One exciting programme is being pioneered by Josh Rigby, D&T Leader at Blackfield Primary School, part of the Inspire Learning Federation. His Year 6 ‘Lift Off’ project is now in its second year and engages pupils to develop and build remote controlled hovercraft. They use Robox and free 3D modelling tools from Autodesk such as Tinkercad and 123D Design to customise their hovercrafts for identified target audiences.

Pupils at Blackfield Primary School use Tinkercad to create custom parts for their hovercrafts.

 
Another project he leads, titled ‘Dyson Design,’ engages Year 4 pupils in the design of modern desktop equipment for the classroom of the future. The project helps 8-year-old pupils get to grips with technical drawings and requires them to consider a range of materials for their designs, which are then developed in Tinkercad.

We’re also helping to introduce 3D printing to a pioneering, ambitious education project targeting primary age children in Scotland. Martyn Hendry, STEM Co-ordinator in East Ayrshire Council, has just completed a Robox pilot programme in a number of primary schools in his authority to see how 3D printers can be introduced into the curriculum. Working with projects he’s developed to inspire creative thinking, and supported by entrepreneurs and people from industry, teachers have reported a very enthusiastic response from pupils. One school has even broadened the project to the Primary 2 year group of 6-year-olds.

Malachy Ryan, from engineering consultancy Alan White Design, demonstrates design innovations to pupils at St Andrews Primary School as part of the DYW programme.

 
Martyn is helping to ensure Robox plays its part in the Scottish government’s youth employment strategy, Developing the Young Workforce (DYW) – a seven-year programme that aims to better prepare children and young people from 3-18 for the world of work. The success of the Robox pilot programme and Scottish government programmes such as DYW herald the beginning of a much more ambitious rollout of 3D printers to schools and organisations in the region.

Dumfries House Education, a cluster of six bespoke training centres situated in the stunning 18th century Ayrshire Dumfries House estate, is one such organisation using Robox to help deliver experiential, hands-on activities for young people. The centres offer a selection of education and training programmes designed to support learners in Primary and Secondary education with the Engineering Education Centre’s aim being to excite young people about science and technology. Dumfries House Education grew from HRH the Prince of Wales’ desire to see young people engage in learning experiences that promote confidence, personal development and offer training in real life skills. Their inspirational workshops are available to schools, youth groups and local authorities in the region and Martyn is actively involved helping to integrate 3D printing into their programmes.

Robox is providing schools with a more cost-effective, straightforward option to bring 3D printing to classrooms and workshops around the UK. As a British 3D printer manufacturer making the world’s only desktop 3D printer with an interlocking safety door, we are uniquely placed to work with the James Dyson Foundation and schools across the country to help improve learning outcomes and empower teachers and schoolchildren to invent, to think creatively about design and technology and not be afraid to make mistakes. Martyn Hendry reports how 3D printers and computer-aided design (CAD) software have helped children as young as 9 understand mathematical concepts such as negative numbers: “There was just no justification for using CAD without a 3D printer. 3D printers embed the technical drawing while the teaching and learning is embedded in the use of CAD.”

For more information about what we’re doing, read a previous article here or contact me directly using the links below.

CEL Robox, “a workshop in a box”

By | Education | No Comments

“Robox is an amazing tool for learning. In my studies, it has allowed me to bring my ideas and concepts into the physical world. Producing something traditionally which is as complex or intricate as what can be produced using a 3D printer, would require years of training on professional tools or be impossible to be produced as a single object. This obviously would be an impossibility for a student who wants to envision their ideas into reality. As a student myself, I do not have the skills or knowledge to use high level manufacturing equipment, but have unique ideas. By removing the complexities of the production process, it allows multiple ideas to be produced with ease.

“The innovative design of the Robox 3D printer allows easy to load materials, again, reducing the complexity of the production process. Its simple UI offers ease of use to both new and experienced users with the advanced functionality. My favourite feature is the heated bed, this allows printing to start up almost immediately, and not require bed preparation; which is the case for many 3D printers.

“Robox allows people like myself, to be able to envision our ideas, and make them reality. By having physical objects, we learn from mistakes in design, and gain a more practised knowledge of design. Robox is essentially a workshop in a box.”

Writhlington-SchoolJames Stewart
Student
Writhlington School

Maker’s Muse review

By | News, Robox User Blog | No Comments

This week Angus Deveson from Maker’s Muse released an updated review of the CEL Robox, courtesy of our friends at HobbyKing who provided a loan unit.

Angus points out that Robox offers users capabilities only found in 3D printers many times its price with a number of innovative and unique features – such as our patented needle valve flow control technology or locking safety door – not found in any other 3D printer. He also notes how exceptionally well-suited Robox is for the education sector in particular, which is a big reason why it’s the leading 3D printer in schools.

The video is around 16 minutes long and covers quite a range of topics.

Feel free to get in touch if you’d like to learn more about Robox or anything mentioned in the video.

Why pay when free software can do the job?

By | Design, Robox User Blog, Stuff and Things | 4 Comments

A key driver of desktop 3D printing technology adoption over the last few years has been the proliferation of completely free 3D modelling tools that are, crucially, user-friendly and extremely high quality. Since these tools are such powerful enablers of 3D printing technology and, during meetings with customers, I often end up sharing my thoughts on the merits of various 3D modelling software tools anyway, I considered I should offer a short summary of tools I use personally and would recommend for use with any 3D printer.

Each tool listed here performs distinct tasks in the 3D modelling process so there’s no overlap of functions between them. The purpose of this list is purely to inform of the tools that I use personally, not to offer any kind of comparison. Some more advanced users may scoff at my 3D modelling arsenal, but I’d ask that they bear in mind my non-engineering background. Despite my novice experience and skills, I’ve found that the following tools work very well together to do pretty much anything I want to do – from designing high-precision mechanisms to personalising Xmas gifts. All of these software tools are free to use because, like most people, I don’t like spending money when I don’t have to.

1. 3D Builder

I use this tool from Microsoft all the time to edit 3D models as it has the cleanest, most user-friendly interface of any 3D modelling tool I’ve used. It looks and feels great, especially when I use it to demonstrate how easy it is to customise and personalise any one of the thousands of free 3D models available from online repositories such as Thingiverse or MyMiniFactory (the latter is integrated into Robox’s AutoMaker software). While 3D Builder is in its element when used to emboss text, logos and other images, it’s equally superb in other areas such as splitting and resizing large models into smaller parts.

3D Builder

2. 123D Design

This is another free tool that I use all the time, but for creating 3D models rather than editing them. 123D Design is made by Autodesk and, as a result, it’s clean, simple and easy to use with a range of features that satisfies virtually all of my modelling needs. While it lacks most of the advanced features found in 3D modelling software tools such as SolidWorks or Autodesk Inventor, it does boast a key feature not found in most expensive 3D modelling tools – the ability to save to the cloud.

I frequently recommend 123D Design since it’s completely free and offers versatile, powerful functionality with an interface suitable for novices and professionals alike. Its high quality is thanks to it being made by one of the best 3D software development companies in the world, which also happens to make the next 3D modelling tool on this list.

123D Design

3. Meshmixer

Meshmixer is my tool of choice for touching up 3D models. The thing I like most about Meshmixer is the way that models can be sculpted naturally by pulling and pushing on surfaces or cutting parts of a model away. Packed with a wide range of versatile, powerful features which perform extremely useful functions such as smoothing and distorting a surface or hollowing out a model, Autodesk’s Meshmixer is an essential tool in my box of freebies.

An important point to note is that Meshmixer is used to edit organic, rather than geometric, models. An organic model consists of natural, flowing curves and shapes whereas a geometric model is one that comprises perfect, uniform shapes that don’t often appear in nature. The model created in 123D Design above, for example, from geometric shapes such as rectangles, triangles and circles wouldn’t edit well in Meshmixer. However, models captured from 3D scans, such as the duck below, are perfect for editing with this tool, which brings me to yet another Autodesk product…

Meshmixer

4. 123D Catch

The final free 3D modelling tool on this list is, without a doubt, the most accessible 3D scanning tool out there. Again, it’s completely free but, unlike the other software listed here, it’s designed to be used on a mobile device such as a smartphone or tablet computer. 123D Catch is an extremely cost-effective (free!) and convenient alternative to dedicated handheld 3D scanning equipment, which starts at around £300 and typically looks like something airport security would get out if you set off a metal detector. I’ve used the app to scan people, objects, buildings, you name it. The app is easy to use and can produce good quality scans, which can be improved further and touched up using Meshmixer. The only drawback to this app is the length of time it takes for photos to be uploaded to Autodesk and processed. It can be a little frustrating – especially if you have poor mobile phone signal! – but I understand frustration to be a feature of all current handheld 3D scanning technologies to a greater or lesser extent.

123D Catch

I did consider adding a fifth 3D modelling tool to this list since 4 is an unusual number to end a list on, but since these four tools take up around 95% of my 3D modelling time I didn’t feel it was appropriate to add another. Tinkercad would most likely have been the fifth free tool , which you can see in action below:

The combined value of this small collection of tools is considerably more than the sum of its parts. When used together, these apps can transform any 3D printer from a novelty to magic. Although I’m currently experimenting with more heavy duty 3D modelling software such as SpaceClaim (I’ve received a free trial) and may end up adding more software to this list, for now I think I’ll be sticking with the free stuff.

Please note: CEL has no commercial ties with Autodesk. They just so happen to make a great suite of free 3D modelling tools.

Robox is best when it’s in pride of place

By | Education, News | No Comments

We’re delighted to see Robox taking pride of place in Technology Supplies’ new 2016-2017 Design & Technology Catalogue as the first product in the CAD/CAM section. Having been awarded the #1 position in a section including 26 other 3D printers, and with over 7k printed catalogues now in circulation, we’d like to thank the team at Technology Supplies for playing their part in helping to make Robox the leading 3D printer for education.

TechSupplies01

TechSupplies02

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For over 30 years Technology Supplies has been supplying innovative Design and Technology products, services and solutions to over 17,000 educators worldwide. They are a leading supplier for 4,275 UK secondary schools but also cater to primary and higher education.

Robox has become the leading 3D printer in schools

By | Education, News | One Comment
 

Blackfield Primary School

Year 6 pupils use Robox to learn about insect anatomy.

 

Complexity made simple

Robox now supports both single and dual extruders with its new dual-material upgrade module, allowing even more complex geometries to be printed with ease.

 

Inspiring a new generation

A Year 4 class in Blackfield Primary School uses Tinkercad and Robox to create stationery organisers for a school project.

 

Mendip Studio School

Year 11 students discuss their GCSE projects.

 

Ashlyns School

A student upgrades his AS-Level project with Robox.

 

Safety and Quality

The interlocking safety door prevents accidental injury and maintains a stable printing environment.

 

FAWE School, Rwanda

Students from Writhlington School provide 3D printer workshops to Rwandan students.

Robox began to make real inroads into key markets last year following the success of our Kickstarter campaign. The desktop 3D printer market has grown strongly and matured since the first commercial Robox units went on sale in December 2014 and I’d like to share some of the valuable insights we’ve gained into how 3D printers are being used today. This is the first in a series of blog posts I’ll be writing on the subject and my inaugural post will be focusing on the education sector.

As CEL’s Robox sales manager, I can be found either in our head office near Bristol, which is packed full of 3D printers and some of the latest Robox tech being developed by our R&D team, or travelling the country supporting our resellers and their customers. As 2015 progressed, I found myself visiting schools using Robox more and more frequently, talking to teachers and students about 3D printers and learning about the innovative ways many schools use Robox in the classroom.

Robox’s success in the education sector follows two projects in recent years funded by the Department for Education (DfE) to identify good uses for 3D printers in schools. In 2012-13, 21 schools were asked to explore innovative ways of using the technology to help with teaching complex scientific and mathematical ideas. Feedback from this project confirmed that 3D printers have significant potential as a teaching resource and, as a result, the DfE funded a more detailed project in 2014-15 exploring how 3D printers can be used to enhance science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) teaching. While still highly encouraging, the results of this more in-depth study highlighted the degree to which positive impact on pupil engagement and understanding relies on 3D printers being used in lessons in effective and meaningful ways.

3D printers are almost exclusively used in design & technology (D&T) departments in secondary schools because they’re naturally a great fit for the subject, helping to break down barriers between designing and manufacturing, inspire young people to invent and think creatively. Although there will be opportunities in the future for 3D printers to be used in other departments such as geography and history – to create 3D maps and recreate historical artefacts, for example – the benefits of the technology are seen most acutely in classrooms with D&T teachers that are confident using new technology and combine elements of science, technology, engineering and maths in their lessons.

We work with the James Dyson Foundation to promote STEM in schools and our partner schools have done an excellent job integrating Robox into their curricula to enhance teaching in these subjects. They increasingly see Robox not only as a valuable learning tool, but as a means of exciting students and engaging them more effectively with STEM subjects.

The new National Curriculum for D&T, which has been updated for first teaching in 2017, places a strong emphasis on the use of cutting-edge equipment to inform pupils’ understanding of industry and provides ample opportunity for students to learn about 3D printing.

Part of the reason Robox is proving so successful in schools is because it’s the only desktop 3D printer with an interlocking safety door, making it the safest option for use around children. It’s also compact and a number of schools using Robox are taking advantage of its form factor to benefit from the dramatically increased capacity and speed enabled by the use of multiple units at the same time. Robox’s cost-effectiveness, both in terms of initial investment and ongoing material costs, plays a critical role in making it a feasible option for schools considering such an investment in building their 3D printing capacity.

As schools decide which technology in their classrooms to procure and how best to spend their overall budgets, the ownership costs of any new technology over its lifetime should be considered carefully. Even if a school were to use only three 3D printers (some schools are using as many as 10 Roboxes), it would stand to make significant savings with Robox to the tune of £thousands while also benefiting from the platform’s enhanced safety features, accessibility and professional quality.

3D Printer Ownership Costs in Schools

Although other 3D printers may at first glance appear to be better value for money – boasting either a lower RRP or cheaper filament – when both initial and ongoing costs are taken into account Robox always comes out on top (the chart above doesn’t even take into account that, unlike the vast majority of 3D printers, Robox doesn’t lock users into using specific consumables à la HP in the 2D printer world).

We’re really excited to be having such a positive impact in schools around the country with Robox and in partnership with the James Dyson Foundation. If you’d like to learn more about Robox or what we’re doing, or if you have any comments, please feel free to get in touch.

Note: 3D printer unit costs based on on MSRP. PLA filament costs obtained from manufacturer websites or recommended reseller websites if manufacturer does not sell directly to customers in the UK. All costs correct at time of writing on 20 April, 2016.