Making a business of 3D printing ‚Äď Joseph Carney and Bev Peaty

The Ultimaker 2 is a 3-D printer that prints objects layer by layer in plastic. It takes about an hour to print a key ring.

Our PRU invested in the printer in¬†November ‚Äď it is a beautifully designed¬†piece of equipment and aesthetically¬†pleasing in its own right. It is also easy to¬†set up and we have found it reliable.

Before we dived into designing anything, we set about thoroughly engaging the students by getting them to choose an object to print for themselves from one of two 3-D printing community websites:

‚Äď YouMagine (¬†and Thingiverse (¬†which have over 100,000 printable¬†models between them.

They were quick to see the machine’s potential and we harnessed their enthusiasm by asking them to design some objects of their own to print, either from scratch, or by adapting something else. For this, students used one of two free 3D CAD programs downloaded from the internet: Tinkercad ( and SketchUp ( Both are easy to learn, although most of my students find Tinkercad easier to master.

The students then transfer their design¬†into a program call Cura, which is free to¬†download. This slices a 3D model into¬†layers, and creates the code to print it.¬†Cura also allows students to resize objects¬†and duplicate them ‚Äď sometimes they¬†print a batch of items.

See a demo here:

The printer has turned out to be an excellent cross-curricular tool. The art department is using it for GCSE projects. The geography department has printed volcanoes. The science department has printed a tiny solar greenhouse for seed propagation and some wind turbines as part of a project to design and make an environmentally-friendly house.

Progress in maths has accelerated because students are motivated to learn how to resize objects, which are done on XYZ axes, understand about coordinates and develop their coding skills. The printer has also proved useful as a way of producing 3-D medals for the winners of our Pupil of the Week awards. In addition, we are using it to develop the students’ entrepreneurial and business skills: a couple of months ago, they set up a business to print personalised key rings for parents and friends. As a result of this enterprise, they are now more comfortable using spreadsheets, which they use to work out costs of sale, while the process of working out what to charge after mark-up has helped them get to grips with profi t and loss accounts. They have also been keen to learn about marketing and advertising, how to develop a database to keep track of customers, and one student, Portcha Heywood, took on responsibility for designing a website to promote the business.

The plastic filament recommended for schools is PLA. This is a form of corn starch and is fully biodegradable. It comes on reels in around 20 colours and combinations. It costs us around 27p per metre, enough to make a typical key ring. All the profits go back into the business to buy more materials and, ultimately, maybe even to invest in another 3-D printer.

Having the printer in the PRU has made a huge difference to our students. It has boosted engagement, especially in the boys. Significantly, students’ confidence has improved as they begin to realise that they can make and sell something worthwhile and that they are good at business.

Joseph Carney is the ICT coordinator and Bev Peaty is an ICT technician and HLTA at the Canterbury Centre in Eccles, a pupil health referral unit for students with anxiety, depression, autism, OCD, dyspraxia, dyslexia and SEBD.

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