By Ian Lee
At the Nashville Mini Maker Faire last weekend, I had the pleasure to speak with the makers at the New Valence Robotics booth. They were showing their 3D printer which they claim is the world’s first fully automated 3D printer designed for schools. I had an opportunity to see the printer in action and it definitely has some unique features.
I spoke with Mateo Pena Doll, a mechanical engineer who works on the project. He says they have talked to many schools that have 3D printers and the problem they hear over and over is that teachers very often need to print many copies of the same part. With most traditional 3D printers this means loading up a part in the software, starting the print, coming back in a few hours to remove the part, then starting the next print. Rinse and repeat for 30 students…
New Valence’s printer solves this problem by adding specialized software and hardware to the printer. The printer can hold a queue of print jobs and then automatically remove parts after they have been printed. It then begins the next print job without any human interaction required.
They’ve also developed web-based management software that makes it possible to completely monitor and control the printer remotely via the web. This could be very useful for schools that may have many teachers sharing a single printer that stays at a remote location.
The team traveled to Nashville, Tenn. from Boston, Mass. where they are all MIT students graduating this year. I expect that we’ll hear a lot more about these makers post-graduation. They hope to start a beta program in Q1 of 2014 at select schools – possibly including some in Nashville.
The printer that New Valence brought to the fair was an earlier prototype. After the Fair they sent me a copy of their current version which, unfortunately, wasn’t available to make the trip. It definitely has evolved and looks much more polished than the one at the fair. I’m eager to see the final version.