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Isabel Wachtel, a Greenport High School senior, works in 3D design at the school's technology lab. Photo: Denise Civiletti
Isabel Wachtel, a Greenport High School senior, works in 3D design at the school's technology lab. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Small town high school, big university 3D printing lab: how a Greenport technology teacher got it done

Greenport technology teacher Michael Davies can barely contain his enthusiasm as he takes visitors on a tour of his small and bustling 3D printing lab. His excitement is easy to understand: Davies has built one of just a handful of 3D printing labs in a public high school on Long Island.

“It’s really impressive, especially when you consider the size of our school,” Superintendent David Gamberg said.

Students get hands-on training in Michael Davies' 3D printing lab, which is outfitted with eight of the high-tech machines. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Students get hands-on training in Michael Davies’ 3D printing lab, which is outfitted with eight of the high-tech machines. Photo: Denise Civiletti

When a school or library acquires even one 3D printer, it’s noteworthy, but Greenport’s technology classroom now boasts multiples, thanks to Davies’ efforts.

The Greenport tech teacher has gotten eight of the high-tech 3-D replicators donated to the district — along with a host of other equipment and supplies. The value of the donated equipment and material to date exceeds $44,000. Davies has no intention of slowing down his efforts, even as the relatively small classroom space grows crowded with equipment — and students who share his enthusiasm.

“We’re all learning together,” Davies says. “It’s fun and exciting.”

The air in the classroom is filled with the staccato hum of the replicators whirring as they build 3D objects, layer by layer. The sounds of the machinery at work are punctuated by Davies’ excited voice as he calls out instructions to his young charges.

Students flock to the tech lab and quickly become engrossed in their projects, lingering after the bell rings, signaling the end of the period and time to move on.

The class, new this year, has two high school-level sections, with 38 students enrolled. Learning is largely self-directed as the students experiment with the 3D computer design program, moving beyond creations made for the purpose of learning techniques to creating useful objects like smart phone cases, windshield ice scrapers, camera lens hoods, parts for the equipment they use and even prosthetic hands.

While the machines are called 3D printers, they don’t resemble computer printers that have been a common fixture in homes and offices for decades — though they do produce things created with computer programs. The printers fabricate objects designed by users of auto-CAD software on a three-dimensional axis. Spooled plastic thread is heated to a gooey state and laid down in droplets on a heated surface inside the replicator. Its exact placement along the X and Y axis is dictated by the software. The build plate moves up on the Z axis. In this way, an object is built layer by intricate layer. It can take upwards of 16 hours to complete the build.

2016_0125_greenport_3D_printing_luzbot - 1“It’s basically like a high-tech glue gun,” Davies says.

The exterior surface of an object is a solid construction. Internally, it’s usually a crisscrossed or honeycomb construction, which gives the exterior “walls” of the object strength — preventing them from collapsing inward —while allowing the object to be lighter in weight than if it were of sold construction through and through. It also conserves supplies.

The equipment and supplies are pricey, but Davies has discovered he’s got a knack for getting donations — of equipment, supplies and cash to buy them. He was laid up with an injury early in the term and spent his time securing donations.

“I’m crazy,” he says, laughing.

He makes contacts in the industry through “networking, constant networking,” he says, adding, “And I probably talk them to death. They’ll give me things just to get rid of me.”

The lab is approaching $50,000 worth of equipment and supplies. The district has spent $4,500, he said.

“No high school’s gong to have a lab like this,” Davies says. “It’s like something you’d see at a high-end college.”

It’s exciting to teach kid these technologies, because “it opens up so many possibilities” for them, Davies said.

“They can walk into an industrial design class or an engineering class and have a jump on what they need to know.” And knowing how to operate the equipment and create with it are valuable skills in the job market, he says.

Michael Davies shows off parts for a prosthetic hand made by students with a 3D replicator in his technology lab at Greenport High SchoolPhoto: Denise Civiletti

Greenport High School technology teacher Michael Davies shows off parts for a prosthetic hand made by students with a 3D replicator in his technology lab at Greenport High SchoolPhoto: Denise Civiletti