Education

The Best Option for Your Fablab: Laser Machine or 3D Printer?

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New Learning Possibilities

With their relatively new introduction into the educational environment, laser machines are not abundant in many schools. Walk into almost any school fab lab or maker space and you are likely to find one or more 3D printers—for good reason. They offer educators a cost-effective way to give students hands-on experience in STEAM subjects. But issues around print speed and uptime are prompting some schools to complement their 3D printers with laser machines, which opens up new learning possibilities and has some distinct advantages over 3D printers. While investing in schools and education is always a solid investment, limited budgets and time restrictions make practicality critical in most schools’ decisions in large investments like these. 

Laser Machines are up to 500x Faster

Foremost among these is speed. A 3D printer can take up to 24 hours to print a large object because it works by a slowly accreting filament. A laser machine, on the other hand, makes quick cuts from existing material—be it a sheet of plywood or cardboard—to form pieces that can then be assembled. “We made something with our 3D printer that was eight inches tall and it took about 10 hours,” said Alejandro Hernandez, an engineer with the Lennox Public Schools in Los Angeles. “With the laser machine, we can feed in a sheet of plywood and have a chair ready for assembly within 10 minutes.” This drastic improvement in production speed can certainly be appreciated by teachers specifically, as packing long projects into already tight lesson plans can be problematic on its own. The decrease in time also allows for additional instruction and more in-depth planning for projects with instructors and students.

Laser Cut Chair
Alex Chair, photo courtesy of Obrary.com

Rapid Results

For educators dealing with an entire class of students, production speed is a major issue, especially when the emphasis is on project-based learning. “Speed definitely was a factor in our decision to purchase a laser machine,” said Hernandez. “It ensures that all students have their own projects and their own final result. We wouldn’t be able to do that with larger objects on our 3D printers.”

Larger Than Life Projects

Rockey

The scale is the other significant advantage. The cutting beds of the laser machines used in education typically range from 18 x 12 inches to 48 x 36 inches, but these don’t limit the size of the end product. Students can design large objects—a giraffe, for example—using CAD software and then cut the parts needed from multiple sheets of plywood. “It was really important to us that we be able to do larger-scale projects with the laser,” said Hernandez. With many students, larger projects increase excitement in the experience, and excitement is imperative to student involvement. And when students are excited and involved, learning is greatly enhanced and the teacher’s job becomes much easier and more enjoyable. 

Brick Engraved With Laser Machine
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Finally, a laser machine offers the ability to do engraving, a 2D skill that serves as an ideal student introduction to STEAM projects. An added benefit is that schools can bring all of their engraving needs in-house, whether it’s etching the school name on PCs, adding student names to sports trophies, or engraving memorial bricks and plaques for fundraisers. “We’ve done engravings on all kinds of materials,” said Ale Hernandez. “We even did engravings on marble plaques as thank-yous to our school board for setting up the program.” The ability to do engraving on projects adds another layer of personalization, which can help develop the student’s personal connection to learning. Whether it be their name, favorite logo, or custom design on a project, the ability to engrave presents the opportunity for the student to create something truly personalized. 

Summary

With both types of machines having their unique benefits to the learning environment, it is difficult to argue that one is better than the other. The truth is, they are both great tools that can contribute to the bettering of teaching methods, advance learning, and excitement amongst students, while also developing students’ ambition and creativity. And with the significance that our youth’s success holds to society’s future, there is nothing more worthy of investment than education. The tools that we provide our teachers with are the deciding factor in students’ success, and the development of students’ creativity is the key to the progression of society.

So, if you’re a teacher or educator interested in having your program further invest in unlocking the creative abilities of your students, consider an AP Lazer as an addition to your school’s educational arsenal. If you’re still looking for inspiration in your investment, check out our Before You Buy page on Facebook, where you can see some of the amazing work and success our customers have already found with their AP Lazer.

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