Why Robox is making such an impact in education

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When I first used a 3D printer in 2005, Stratasys and 3D Systems were the only players in town and the costs of their systems were truly eye-watering. The Stratasys Dimension BST we used then cost over £19,000 and reels of filament over £200 each.

In the decade since, key 3D printing patents held by those once pioneering manufacturers have expired and the open source RepRap project has triggered a wave of desktop 3D printer innovations. The cost of 3D printing technologies has now plummeted (Robox costs less than £1,000 with reels of filament under £30 each) at the same time as we’ve seen significant advances in speed and capabilities – thanks also in part to the recent proliferation of very high quality, but totally free, 3D modelling tools. The technology has become much simpler, more affordable and therefore more accessible to everyone.

3D printers are fast becoming staples of secondary school D&T departments. Our work with the James Dyson Foundation is seeing us develop some truly exciting and innovative STEM programmes aimed at encouraging students and teachers to use 3D printers and inspiring them to think creatively about design and technology. While our work has initially focused on programmes in secondary schools, our efforts to help stimulate young people are now leading us to help develop new programmes with partner schools at even earlier stages in the education curriculum.

One exciting programme is being pioneered by Josh Rigby, D&T Leader at Blackfield Primary School, part of the Inspire Learning Federation. His Year 6 ‘Lift Off’ project is now in its second year and engages pupils to develop and build remote controlled hovercraft. They use Robox and free 3D modelling tools from Autodesk such as Tinkercad and 123D Design to customise their hovercrafts for identified target audiences.

Pupils at Blackfield Primary School use Tinkercad to create custom parts for their hovercrafts.

Another project he leads, titled ‘Dyson Design,’ engages Year 4 pupils in the design of modern desktop equipment for the classroom of the future. The project helps 8-year-old pupils get to grips with technical drawings and requires them toconsider a range of materials for their designs, which are then developed in Tinkercad.

We’re also helping to introduce 3D printing to a pioneering, ambitious education project targeting primary age children in Scotland. Martyn Hendry, STEM Co-ordinator in East Ayrshire Council, has just completed a Robox pilot programme in a number of primary schools in his authority to see how 3D printers can be introduced into the curriculum. Working with projects he’s developed to inspire creative thinking, and supported by entrepreneurs and people from industry, teachers have reported a very enthusiastic response from pupils. One school has even broadened the project to the Primary 2 year group of 6-year-olds.

Malachy Ryan, from engineering consultancy Alan White Design, demonstrates design innovations to pupils at St Andrews Primary School as part of the DYW programme.
Martyn is helping to ensure Robox plays its part in the Scottish government’s youth employment strategy, Developing the Young Workforce (DYW) – a seven-year programme that aims to better prepare children and young people from 3-18 for the world of work. The success of the Robox pilot programme and Scottish government programmes such as DYW herald the beginning of a much more ambitious rollout of 3D printers to schools and organisations in the region.

Dumfries House Education, a cluster of six bespoke training centres situated in the stunning 18th century Ayrshire Dumfries House estate, is one such organisation using Robox to help deliver experiential, hands-on activities for young people. The centres offer a selection of education and training programmes designed to support learners in Primary and Secondary education with the Engineering Education Centre’s aim being to excite young people about science and technology. Dumfries House Education grew from HRH the Prince of Wales’ desire to see young people engage in learning experiences thatpromote confidence, personal development and offer training in real life skills. Their inspirational workshops are available to schools, youth groups and local authorities in the region and Martyn is actively involved helping to integrate 3D printing into their programmes.

Robox is providing schools with a more cost-effective, straightforward option to bring 3D printing to classrooms and workshops around the UK. As a British 3D printer manufacturer making the world’s only desktop 3D printer with an interlocking safety door, we are uniquely placed to work with the James Dyson Foundation and schools across the country to help improve learning outcomes and empower teachers and schoolchildren to invent, to think creatively about design and technology and not be afraid to make mistakes. Martyn Hendry reports how 3D printers and computer-aided design (CAD) software have helped children as young as 9 understand mathematical concepts such as negative numbers: “There was just no justification for using CAD without a 3D printer. 3D printers embed the technical drawing while the teaching and learning is embedded in the use of CAD.”

For more information about what we’re doing, read a previous article here or contact me directly using the links below.

Profile photo of Grant Mackenzie

About Grant Mackenzie

Grant is Robox Sales Manager for the EMEA region. He’s based in CEL’s UK head office. Contact Grant


CEL Robox in Blackfield Primary School

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CEL Robox in Blackfield Primary School

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“We’ve been using our CEL Robox for about a month now and in that short space of time children as young as 8 have been able to design, create and print 3D models from their own imaginations. The AutoMaker software supplied with the printer is clear and simple to operate with the time of print, price and weight a fantastic feature for education settings. The children have got to grips with it so quickly and can now work independently on their designs. All of this combined with hardware that’s incredibly safe and user-friendly to operate, the CEL Robox is exactly what our academy needs to take our Design and Technology to the next level.”

Blackfield Fawley United AcademyJosh Rigby
Year 6 Teacher and Design and Technology Lead
Inspire Learning Federation

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Tomorrow’s Woodworkers

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Tomorrow’s Woodworkers

Searching for the woodworkers of the future, Nick Gibbs asks if we bear as much responsibility as the education system

T here are plenty of discussions to be had about woodwork in schools and colleges, as seen in a recent issue of Furniture & Cabinetmaking magazine. Exactly the same debate has been had about sport over the years. I believe that schools can certainly sow the seeds of interest in all sorts of activities, but to convert them into active participation there has to be a connection at home, and/or with the local community. We can bang on about schools providing better teaching of woodwork till our arms drop off, but the majority of woodworkers who buy a bench as they approach retirement haven’t touched a saw seriously since their schooldays, bar a bit of home improvement. What good was that, then? There is obviously a lot to be done to encourage more young people to take up woodworking as a career, and we are already working with colleges to facilitate that leap, but our society will be changed more fundamentally if we can inspire more adolescents to have a go at making things, and develop their creativity as a passion rather than just a career.

The idea is to develop skills, confidence and a sense of achievement that stimulates people to keep going with their interests so that we become a more creative, self-reliant society, and not one glued to the box. We woodworkers are in the vanguard for such a movement by inspiring our own children and grandchildren, and by making the link between school and the rest of their lives. That schools make themselves more accessible, and that more parents get involved, further helps to ensure that all that stuff children learn in the classroom gets remembered in real life, and school isn’t just a funnelling process for colleges and jobs. But woodwork isn’t that easy to teach, either at school or in the shed at home. So here at British Woodworking Towers we’ve taken to kitchen table woodying, where it’s warm and familiar, and helps you break down some of the fear of machines and tools. Lara (12) and Sasha (10) started the other day by making pendants for their friends, burning the names with a pyrography tool (you could use a soldering iron) and cutting them up with a fretsaw. “Oh, I’ve used one of those at school,” exclaimed Lara when I plonked my old Hegner on the table. “They’re brilliant.” But actually, as we quickly discovered, they’re difficult to use if you don’t have variable speed because at max revs and without a hold-down the wood flies around all over the place. We overcame this, to a certain extent, by linking the saw to the foot switch off a sewing machine so that you can feather the speed, but if you are planning to help children we recommend a more controllable solution. You also need to be able to cramp the fretsaw down solidly or it will jump around, which children also find disconcerting. It’s oh so easy to lose their attention when the work becomes awkward.

They loved burning names onto 3mm-thick strips of maple that I’d ripped off the edge of a board and then thicknessed. It’s good to develop a system that makes the woodwork easier for the children. Cutting small pieces with a fretsaw can be quite scary, so instead we worked out that it would be better to write a number of names along a long piece of wood first, drill them for the ribbon holes and then cut them up. One problem we encountered was that you can’t sand away broken grain around the holes after pyrographying or you’ll sand away the burnt names as well, so instead we used a fine burr in the drill press to tidy up the holes. I was surprised how keen the girls were to make the pendants look really neat, and how clearly they noticed the improvement of a sanded edge. They both loved using the drill, which Lara had also tried at school. “We used one of those whirly things with a handle,” she said as I was assembling the cordless Power8Workshop. “That’s it. Can I have a go?” Once we’d finished making the pendants Sasha spent 15 minutes drilling holes into a block of wood, just for the sake of it, while in the background Children in Need was doing its bit. I’ve tried woodworking with the children a few times as they’ve grown up. Sometimes I’ve successfully got them into the workshop, where Sasha, particularly, loves cutting things up on the bandsaw. But I’ve had much more success igniting enthusiasm by bringing the workshop to them, getting them to make things on the kitchen table. You might have to fight with other influences to maintain attention, but at least when you win it’s a true victory and a real connection with real life, and not just because you’ve locked them in the workshop.

Obviously not everyone will agree with this approach, and the kitchen certainly takes a bit of a hammering and gets dusty, but sometimes you have to be creative to engage. I’m sure we should be teaching children to make things at school, introducing them to new skills they might not learn at home. But I’m not convinced that the old ways some people yearn to be re-introduced did actually create a nation of makers, beavering away in their sheds through their twenties and thirties. Perhaps the fact is that when austerity died in the 1960s the motivation to make your own stuff diminished, and with it went the need to develop skills that not only save you money, but also give you a sense of freedom and self. Perhaps the times are right for a reversal of that trend, with more people using local materials to make their own chairs and tables, rather than relying on imported goods from around the world and spending our leisure time watching Strictly Stop Living. Perhaps, finally, with changing economic circumstances we’ll break our addiction to convenience and find ourselves.


CEL Robox in Ashlyns School

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“Sir, is that a 3D printer?” I enquired, “Yes Al, let’s unpack it and see if we can get it working. Are you free after school?” That was the start of it. We took the Robox out of its packaging followed the quick start-up guide and 3D printed our first ever product in under an hour. The product itself was a very small pyramid from the sample files but it was a very definite, very successful start. I’m liking this already!

Like most D&T departments in state schools, the acquiring and implementation of new technologies and equipment is something that has to be carefully managed and justified in budgets. One of the first markers for whether a piece of equipment is worthwhile is the question of impact. On Open Evening Al chose to run the Robox for 4 hours producing a much larger and more complex model. The interest from prospective students, current students, parents and staff was incredible. The feedback sheets from the evening consistently noted two amazing things seen at Open Evening; the brand new sports hall and the 3D printer in D&T.


Stage one, impact, tick!


“Stage two Sir?”, “Yes Al, stage two”. Can I use it in class as a useful piece of equipment in the Product Design students’ tool box? The department already has a small laser cutter and a vinyl cutter that are used relentlessly. In order to test this out Mr Nicholson ‘gave me the keys’ to take it for a proper spin, designing and making. I’m on the AS D&T Graphic Products course and I’m at the design stage of a project to design and model an ‘outdoor’ classroom to be set in the school grounds. I downloaded a free copy of Autodesk-123D and set about the scale model. The bed of the Robox is about A5 and my card model was considerably bigger. The 3D print would be too small if I made it fit the bed so I chose to use the 100mm Z axis and the A5 bed as a start point. I split the model into 8 pieces, 6 of which were doubles (keeping the design modular really helps when you’re using CAM!). I ran the Robox all day and overnight, carefully removing the pieces from the machine’s bed. I used a 10% infill for the blocks so that they would be rigid but not use up too much of the PLA filament. I could stick them together to form the completed model but it’s more useful at the moment for me to have them in smaller blocks so that they fit in my school bag!


I’m not used to D&T being quite this straightforward!


At the point where a number of schools were considering the future of their D&T departments, for financial reasons, Ashlyns were determined to keep the breadth of curriculum and the enrichment that D&T offers. The subject was allied into a Faculty structure with Computer Science and Business Studies. The cross-linking between these three quite different subjects is growing by the day and at its heart is creativity and enterprise, ably assisted of course by control technology, software and CAM. The Faculty’s results have gone from strength to strength as the interest builds and the ‘newer’ technologies are introduced and take their place alongside the traditional. I use the word ‘alongside’ for various reasons. Can I afford a whole class of 3D printers? Would I want to? The answer to both is no. Firstly, I could have bought 10 Robox machines for the price I paid for the laser cutter but then students make so much use of the laser cutter, so quickly and with such a variety of materials. Secondly, every new piece of technology adds another dimension to the subject and doesn’t need to replace anything, older methods often employ a more appropriate level of technology.


However, ask me the question “Would I like more Robox machines in my classrooms?” the answer would be 100% “Yes!”


Most D&T A’ Level courses still have a 50% restriction on how much of the final work can be manufactured using CAD/CAM. Possibly to make sure that traditional skills are still developed or to enable a more level playing field for students from different socio-economic backgrounds, the restrictions are there and may well still be there after the introduction of the new specifications. Has that stopped us from using other forms of CAD/CAM in the past? Of course not, life without the laser cutter doesn’t bear thinking about and as the necessity to increase the students’ exposure to newer technologies for example through the NC 2014 it will need to become part and parcel of what we do. With the NC 2014 in mind, the opportunities to develop some designs based on biomimicry is next on my list!

Before getting the Robox I used to trot out a number of reasons why the department wouldn’t need a 3D printer, mainly based around speed, size restriction, cost but the truth is that you just need to be a bit creative with how it gets used and as always the D&T community is full of ideas and ways forward. The following are a few that have sprung to mind. Firstly, everyone designs and then the class vote for which one gets made (and sometimes those still interested can come back at lunchtime or after school to get theirs made!). Secondly, smaller multiple designs that can fit on the same machine bed. Thirdly, increase the number of machines. I already have systems in place to help replace cookers and sewing machines so I just need to add them to the list and buy half-a-machine per year (or ask the school association!). Lastly, the Robox is a very portable machine and has already been at home with me.


The rapid set-up and zero clamping means that the files just need to be left to get on with manufacturing!


It has to be said that the efficiency of the material consumed is financially useful and the outcomes even on draft resolution are easily enough to portray the detail required. With new materials coming online, that go beyond the already available plethora of colours, such as rubber and dissolvable media, the future is brightly coloured and very flexible!

Ashlyns_school_logoMark Nicholson and Al Cox
Ashlyns School

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About Grant Mackenzie

Grant is Robox Sales Manager for the UK & Ireland. He’s based in CEL’s UK head office. Contact Grant


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