Robox began to make real inroads into key markets last year following the success of our Kickstarter campaign. The desktop 3D printer market has grown strongly and matured since the first commercial Robox units went on sale in December 2014 and I’d like to share some of the valuable insights we’ve gained into how 3D printers are being used today. This is the first in a series of blog posts I’ll be writing on the subject and my inaugural post will be focusing on the education sector.
As CEL’s Robox sales manager, I can be found either in our head office near Bristol, which is packed full of 3D printers and some of the latest Robox tech being developed by our R&D team, or travelling the country supporting our resellers and their customers. As 2015 progressed, I found myself visiting schools using Robox more and more frequently, talking to teachers and students about 3D printers and learning about the innovative ways many schools use Robox in the classroom.
Robox’s success in the education sector follows two projects in recent years funded by the Department for Education (DfE) to identify good uses for 3D printers in schools. In 2012-13, 21 schools were asked to explore innovative ways of using the technology to help with teaching complex scientific and mathematical ideas. Feedback from this project confirmed that 3D printers have significant potential as a teaching resource and, as a result, the DfE funded a more detailed project in 2014-15 exploring how 3D printers can be used to enhance science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) teaching. While still highly encouraging, the results of this more in-depth study highlighted the degree to which positive impact on pupil engagement and understanding relies on 3D printers being used in lessons in effective and meaningful ways.
3D printers are almost exclusively used in design & technology (D&T) departments in secondary schools because they’re naturally a great fit for the subject, helping to break down barriers between designing and manufacturing, inspire young people to invent and think creatively. Although there will be opportunities in the future for 3D printers to be used in other departments such as geography and history – to create 3D maps and recreate historical artefacts, for example – the benefits of the technology are seen most acutely in classrooms with D&T teachers that are confident using new technology and combine elements of science, technology, engineering and maths in their lessons.
We work with the James Dyson Foundation to promote STEM in schools and our partner schools have done an excellent job integrating Robox into their curricula to enhance teaching in these subjects. They increasingly see Robox not only as a valuable learning tool, but as a means of exciting students and engaging them more effectively with STEM subjects.
The new National Curriculum for D&T, which has been updated for first teaching in 2017, places a strong emphasis on the use of cutting-edge equipment to inform pupils’ understanding of industry and provides ample opportunity for students to learn about 3D printing.
Part of the reason Robox is proving so successful in schools is because it’s the only desktop 3D printer with an interlocking safety door, making it the safest option for use around children. It’s also compact and a number of schools using Robox are taking advantage of its form factor to benefit from the dramatically increased capacity and speed enabled by the use of multiple units at the same time. Robox’s cost-effectiveness, both in terms of initial investment and ongoing material costs, plays a critical role in making it a feasible option for schools considering such an investment in building their 3D printing capacity.
As schools decide which technology in their classrooms to procure and how best to spend their overall budgets, the ownership costs of any new technology over its lifetime should be considered carefully. Even if a school were to use only three 3D printers (some schools are using as many as 10 Roboxes), it would stand to make significant savings with Robox to the tune of £thousands while also benefiting from the platform’s enhanced safety features, accessibility and professional quality.
Although other 3D printers may at first glance appear to be better value for money – boasting either a lower RRP or cheaper filament – when both initial and ongoing costs are taken into account Robox always comes out on top (the chart above doesn’t even take into account that, unlike the vast majority of 3D printers, Robox doesn’t lock users into using specific consumables à la HP in the 2D printer world).
We’re really excited to be having such a positive impact in schools around the country with Robox and in partnership with the James Dyson Foundation. If you’d like to learn more about Robox or what we’re doing, or if you have any comments, please feel free to get in touch.
Note: 3D printer unit costs based on on MSRP. PLA filament costs obtained from manufacturer websites or recommended reseller websites if manufacturer does not sell directly to customers in the UK. All costs correct at time of writing on 20 April, 2016.