To say that I was excited about receiving a Dremel 3D Idea Builder printer to test and review is an understatement. We’ve written pretty extensively about Dremel since they first entered into the 3D printing space with their Idea Builder printer and continued on to become a highly successful, education-focused player in the industry. I had heard only good things about the Idea Builder 3D40, and couldn’t wait to try it for myself.
The first thing I noticed as I unpacked the 3D printer from its series of boxes (for a moment I felt like I was playing with a set of Russian nesting dolls – Dremel was very thorough about securing and protecting the printer for its travels) was that there was almost no setup required. Once I got the 3D40 up onto my workspace table, all I had to do was install the build platform, which snapped in easily, and load the spool of white PLA into the secure, semi-enclosed spool holder on the side of the machine. Then I plugged it in and was ready to go – “plug and play” is definitely an accurate description for this particular printer.
The large touchscreen with its simple menu made it very easy to operate the 3D40. I had some trouble getting the WiFi capabilities to work, but I blame that more on my persnickety wireless network than anything else. Fortunately, a flash drive was included with several pre-loaded sample print files, as well as plenty of space to upload my own. The assisted leveling feature made calibration easy and quick. I had a few failed prints when I began – the build plate adhesion wasn’t the best, even after I applied the blue painter’s tape included with the printer, but a glue stick mostly took care of that issue.
Once I had that figured out, I started 3D printing some cats, naturally. My cousin’s birthday was coming up that Saturday, and at the last minute I decided to 3D print a simple “Alert Cat” from Roxanne Barrett on MyMiniFactory, which took little over an hour. I then painted it to look like my cousin’s Russian Blue cat, and she thought it was about the coolest thing in the world. (I love being the only person in my family who works with 3D printers on a regular basis.)
I then tried out the swirly “Organic Vase” from Andrew Reynolds, also on MMF, and it printed perfectly, though I had a little trouble removing one particularly stubborn support structure. The free Print Studio software that came with the Idea Builder was very, very enthusiastic about supports, sometimes overly so, and after a few prints I started manually removing a lot of the automatically generated supports because they just weren’t needed for several of the items I was printing.
The software is very simple and easy to use, clearly designed for beginners, and the printing process itself is extremely quiet – it’s clear that a lot of thought went into optimizing this printer for a classroom setting. Education is one of Dremel’s top priorities for their 3D printers, and earlier this year the company introduced their Dremel Dreams curriculum program, which includes 10 STEM lesson plans centered around 3D printing. Dremel was kind enough to send me those 10 lesson plans along with the printer so I could try some of them out myself.
The 10 projects include STL files for simple 3D models to be printed in the classroom, allowing students to learn about 3D printing along with scientific and mathematical concepts. For example, one lesson plan teaches kids about evolution and statistics by 3D printing several small moths and dividing them into separate “populations” for study, while another uses 3D printed loaded dice to teach lessons about probability. The one I chose to print for myself involved building a catapult out of pencils, a rubber band, and several small 3D printed pieces.
Full disclosure: I did it wrong. I was so excited about 3D printing and building a catapult in my living room that I didn’t read the instructions closely enough, and ended up printing less pieces than were required. I was able to still complete the project, however, even though my catapult was a bit wobbly, to say the least. The lesson plan included about two dozen STL files, including parts for the catapult as well as projectiles, that each took between about three and twenty minutes to print.
The aim of the lesson is to teach students about potential energy, kinetic energy, and the law of conservation of energy by having them fire their 3D printed projectiles across the classroom. Assuming that most middle and high school students can follow instructions better than I can (which is a pretty safe assumption), it’s a great project – kids should have a blast while also learning a lot of important concepts. I certainly had fun launching the projectiles from my awkwardly built catapult, and my cat had a great time chasing them.
My other prints included a soap dish, a spoon rest, and a few other functional objects that I’d never think to buy but had fun printing – like a tick remover designed by CEL. Why not? The little buggers are becoming more populous in recent years, and the small tool, resembling a bird leg, was just plain fun to print. For the most part, everything printed easily, although I did go through a lot of glue sticks to compensate for the adhesion difficulty. The prints looked good, with nice resolution, and the printer helpfully alerted me whenever a print finished by playing a musical little jingle.
For its $1,299 price tag, the Dremel 3D Idea Builder 3D40 is a good deal. It’s exactly what the company says it is – an easy-to-use, safe, reliable 3D printer that’s a perfect introduction into the world of 3D printing. I definitely recommend it for the classroom, as well as for home users of any experience level.