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Building 3D Wind Turbines teaches math and physics – to teachers

Does 3D printing in education make sense only for technical schools where teachers and students are familiar with 3D modeling and technology? We developed a special workshop to prove the opposite. Read on.  
Recently we wrote about how student education benefits from 3D printing. Our example used a technical school where teachers and students were familiar with 3D modeling and technology.
Does it mean that 3D printers are not applicable to other subjects such as chemistry, math and physics?

We believe the opposite is true. To prove it, we decided to develop a special workshop concept that would:  
  1. rely heavily on use of 3D printers
  2. minimize the need for technical skills such as 3D modelling or manual processing of 3D files
  3. solve several different, real life problems
  4. utilize a simple workflow
  5. use technology to keep students motivated and interested  

Design, print, test

We had a chance to test the workshop for the first time in the beginning of December when the Autodesk Academia Forum conference was organized in Technical University in Brno, Czech Republic. Almost 50 high school teachers from all over the Czech Republic came for the event.  As the conference was literally next door from our headquarters, we invited them to our offices to get first-hand experience using our YSoft be3D eDee 3D printing solution for education.
For the workshop, we transformed our employee relax zone into a classroom for the day. Eight PC workstations and a fleet of eight networked eDee printers were used to simulate a classroom setting. Each workstation was used by 3-person teams of teachers who were expected to ‘walk a mile in students’ shoes’ during the workshop.

The workshop was built around a simple task: design the most effective wind turbine model to generate electricity when connected to a special testing device. That doesn’t sound simple at all, does it? Well, keep reading.

The workshop was divided in three main phases:

1. Design

Using an on-line application,, teachers were shown how to design their own wind turbine model really easily. The teams were to input key parameters of the turbine (blade height, width, angle and number of blades) in numbers and the application does the modelling part.
To use it one doesnt need special skills but still remains challenged by having to figure out the most effective design (by trying different parameters such as a higher number of blades vs. the overall weight of the turbine or what effect an odd or even number of blades might have on the result output).

2. Print

Once satisfied with their model, they downloaded the final model as an .stl file. Using DeeControl software, (software that is used to prepare 3D files for the YSoft be3D 3D printer) they sent the job to print – which printer could they use? Any available printer since eDee using Print Roaming to pull the print job from the network.  
Using their unique PIN code to unlock the printer doors, they followed the on-display instructions to quickly commence the print job (read more about eDee print management based on our unique YSoft SAFEQ integration). Depending on the individual models, they could enjoy a 15-25 minute break as their model began to print.

3. Test

When the 3D printing was finished, teams were ready for the final phase. After unlocking the printer and obtaining the printed object they came to the testing device area to test and measure the electricity output of their turbine model.
For that we used a special testing device (yes, we built it from 3D printed parts). The device used an electrically powered computer cooling fan built in a 3D printed case. The air stream was directed to the spindle where the turbine model was to be attached. The mechanical part of the spindle was connected to the voltmeter that converted RPMs to millivolts.
Just for the record building the special testing device takes about one hour for an average handy person, two hours for not-so-handy tinkers (such as the author of this post).


To have an idea of the overall workshop workflow watch the following video. 

So, which educational subjects were used in creating and testing a wind turbine?

Math calculations were used to find the best possible parameters of the turbine’s design, while transforming mechanical energy into electrical included physics as well. Both were used in a practical, real-life application that didn’t require extraordinary technical skills. Each team completed their project in 90 minutes.

Even though we didn’t involve iterations of the model in the workshop because of time constraints, one can imagine that could be done by simply adjusting the goal of the project to reach a certain output threshold value. Repeating the whole process again and again until the desired result is achieved is the most effective way for students how to fully understand the math and physics behind the assignment.
Knowing that iteration was not possible for this workshop, we put in a gamification element by having a competition for the most effective design. Once teachers found out about a competition and prize, they entered into the assignment passionately, Googling  for information about wind turbine mechanisms, having lively discussions about different ideas and, most importantly, having fun while educating themselves.
Y Soft was pleased to sponsor the Autodesk Academia Forum and to host the teams of teachers who visited our offices in Brno to take part in this special workshop.

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