An E-Waste 3D Printer For Every Child?

The lofty goal of making sure every school kid has access to a laptop has yet to be reached when along comes an effort to put a 3D printer in the hands of every kid. And not just any printer – a printer the kid builds from a cheap kit of parts and a little e-waste.

The design of the Curiosity printer is pretty simple, and bears a strong resemblance to an earlier e-waste 3D printer we covered back in December. This one has a laser-cut MDF frame rather than acrylic, but the guts are very similar – up-cycled DVD drives for the X- and Z-axes, and a floppy drive for the Y-axis. A NEMA 17 frame stepper motor provides the oomph needed to drive the filament into an off-the-shelf hot end, and an Arduino runs the show. The instructions for assembly are very clear and easy to follow, although we suspect that variability in the sizes of DVD and floppy drives could require a little improvisation at assembly time. But since the assembly of the printer is intended to be as educational as its use, throwing a little variability into the mix is probably a good idea.

The complete kit, less only the e-waste drives and power supply, is currently selling for $149USD. That’s not exactly free, but it’s probably within range of being funded by a few bake sales. Even with the tiny print volume, this effort could get some kids into 3D printers early in their school career.


62 thoughts on “An E-Waste 3D Printer For Every Child?

  1. It’s much more sensible to provide people the opportunity to use good quality 3d printers than to insist that every student hast to own their own. These printers are absolute junk, completely overpriced at 150$ and a source of neverending frustration.
    They’re okay for printing worthless doodads, but that’s not what you’d want. You’d want students to learn how to use modeling software to create interesting and helpful parts, then print them. For this, you need precision in your printer and you also need to be able to use the right materials. PLA is an absolute joke; nice for parts to look at, but too brittle to be used for anything that moves and is intended to continue doing so for some time. These printers can be precise after an incredible amount of tuning and slowing things down to a crawl, but that’s really no fun. Children have the right to be impatient, and waiting several hours for a really small part will frustrate most of them to no end. Even I am frustrated by slow printing, but at least with mechanically sound designs, you can crank up the speed. Parts printed at high speed won’t exactly be suitable as mantlepieces, but this is very often acceptable.
    So, instead of promoting the idea that everyone and their dog should have a crappy 3d printer, you rather should promote students to have uninhibited access to reasonable hobby-grade 3d printers.

    1. I disagree with almost every point you make.

      If the printer produces prints that are even half decent for building things (perhaps with a little finishing work) that can be an absolute game-changer for a kid with an idea. Also, PLA is a perfectly acceptable material to print with, provided you actually know how to print with it. We run pretty much only PLA where I work, and it’s consistently been less fussy than ABS and has produced far better prints with less peeling and failures. As for “fun” if the printers work, the printers work. When the mission is to make the technology available, it doesn’t matter if a print take an hour and a half or is left overnight to finish.

      The bottom line is that for many situations, an expensive printer means NO PRINTER. If you have a printer, and it works “good enough” than that’s fantastic if you can get it out there and give kids the opportunity to use it. Kids are smart, they’ll figure out a way to make it work, and I think you should give them more credit.

      The only thing we can agree on, is that the price of the electronics needs to be knocked down, and I think that’s been a major blindspot to the reprap project.

      1. Problem is not the print result. Problem is the failure rate. Pretty sure I can run high quality prints out of this machine, but I have 3+ years of experience in 3D printing. Made my own 3D printing software, and know every detail when things go wrong.

        But for someone without experience, a machine like this is just a source of frustation. 9 out of 10 prints will fail.

        1. It might be difficult for someone who’s only ever worked with high-end high-speed printers to get a print out of something like this, especially if you’ve never had to do real, mechanical maintenance. This isn’t a work-out-of-the box printer, and that’s not the goal.

          But for someone who’s put the time in to build it from scratch, you very quickly learn the ins and outs of your machine, and I think anyone who builds one of these can get it broken-in in short order. In fact, it’s probably more likely that someone will put the time in to get one of these working nicely, given it’s something they built themselves and is more DIY oriented. The ultimate peak is probably lower in terms of finish quality, but there’s no reason to expect that even close to half of the prints will fail in regular use.

          Experience with these things pales in comparison to enthusiasm, there’s no one with more enthusiasm than kids, and there are few things a little ingenuity can’t solve.

    2. $150 each a classroom buying 10 for 10 students could easily buy 3 good #D printers that have 50X the capability and 3 PC’s to go with them.

      These things need a $25.00 pricepoint to be viable.

      1. That example doesn’t scale well for larger classes (6 printers paid for by 20 students? How about 9 for a typical class of 30? How much are you assuming these cost? With 1500 buying 3 printers, that’s awfully cheap per-printer), and it means having student wait in line for a communal printer. It’s an equivalent to buying a few library computers instead of a laptop for each child (as noted in the article) where you loose the value of giving each child their printer.

        Not to mention, this isn’t oriented towards equipping schools, but the children themselves.

        1. The $150 price point is a deal killer, for $400 you can buy assembled Chinese knock offs of the MakerBot, for under $300 you can get good kits with all parts included.

          Your analogy about a laptop for every child instead of a library of computers is misleading because the laptops actually worked out of the box, 3D printing is frustrating enough without introducing cheap motors and materials. Very few kids will have the stamina to endure the trial and error, and those are the exact same kids who would wait their turn to print on a good shared machine.

          This needs to be at the price of a raspberry pi ($25) to make sense, otherwise just wait for the mainstream 3D printer units to drop below $200 (likely within another 2 years) and buy them for each kid. The 3D Micro is already in the vicinity of that price.

    1. That reminds me of the OLPC mantra.


      The kids don’t need a laptop, or a 3D printer. What they need is a stack of paper, books, a good teacher and a blackboard to teach them the basic stuff like we’ve been doing for two thousand years. Technology does not replace basic education.

      1. Yup!

        And the corollary, you don’t get a cheap laptop by designing a custom one with a fancy display. You get it by taking what’s on the mass-market, and adapt it as minimally as you can, if you need to. Amazon’s Fire will end up doing more for computers in poor countries than the OLPC ever did.

        1. It’s really worth noting that when the OLPC program started, there wasn’t much on the market that would work. There had been some low-end-low-cost laptop attempts in the past, but they were nowhere near the $100 mark and weren’t nearly power-efficient enough for the intended use-cases OLPC was addressing. Remember, OLPC came first and netbooks came _after_. The OLPC program folded because they won.

          1. The OLPC project was completely ridiculous from the get go. It wasn’t just about making a cheap laptop.

            Their idea was to make a laptop for children who don’t necessarily even have electricity at home. The pointlessness of it strikes home when you try to think of what a child in a community with no electricity, or internet, would even need a laptop for.

            There was a bit of a gap between what the project team wanted the kids to learn, such as programming, and what use these skills would have been in their respective communities. You need a level of basic social infrastructure in place first before ICT becomes useful in any ways. Otherwise it’s just cargo cult education.

          2. Point being that a $100 laptop – cheap as it seems – is relatively speaking as expensive as an entire car would be to you and me, to a poor 3rd world kid who subsist on about a dollar per day, so it better have some damn good use to earn its keep, or else there’s no point in having them.

            Imagine for example if we started a “linear particle accelerator for every schoolkid!” project in some first world country. That would be similiar in relative scope to what the OLPC was trying to achieve, and what this 3D printer thing is also trying to pull off.

    2. Amen to that!

      As a father of 2 home schooled pre-teenage kids I can tell you that this short attentions span issue is not just something applicable to the modern day typical pre-teen. I imagine 100 years ago parents probably had some level f difficulty with attention span of younger children. Granted our modern day lifestyle and conveniences have most certainly aggravated this issue but I doubt young children from past generations were without some level of attention span issues.

      Both of my kids have the skills/patience to assemble the higher level (in terms of difficulty) modular sets from LEGO like the CITY HALL and GREEN GROCER but they have to do it in multiple sessions. While I could sit down and put together one of these in one session my children could not because they would grow bored after a while. They even grow bored of playing video games and or watching TV on the rare days when we let them pursue either of these without any time limits. We do this every 2 -3 months (watch TV or play video games without any time constraint) to measure how long they go before switching to something else because they are tired/done with watching TV or playing video games. We know that if the time they spend has increased then the wife and I compare notes to see if we have allowed them too much time at either of these activities since the last time we did this. Its rewarding to see your child stop playing video games or watching TV and move onto something that des not involve digital entertainment without being told they have to stop.

      My kids would be very excited about this project until we got into it and they realized how long and tedious it would be. The high failure rate would almost certainly leave them with a bad impression of the technology and possibly do the opposite of what was intended. Failure is certainly a valuable lesson but when the failure rate exceeds the success rate to the extent this thing does the goal of the project is lost. That said I commend the creator for their effort and would encourage them to continue improving on this so that at some later point/version the failure rate is reduced to a more acceptable value.

    1. Folgertech printers are decent, I have one. The only problem is the lack of support. The guys behind it don’t offer any kind of an assembly guide, only a string of videos that have no audio and text captions. The whole assembly is done from across a table. You really can’t make out what they are doing. But for the cheap price, I guess you can’t argue.

      1. You could write your own Instructable or github wiki and clarify the details they left out. Suddenly the information is available to everyone.

        Or you could whine about it on HaD, which nobody reads anyway.

          1. I’ll type this slowly because you’re clearly not so good at reading. I said he *could* publish his own instructions with more detail (that he felt was lacking). Nowhere did I suggest that he should, must, or ought to. As you correctly surmise, pointing out obvious problems does not in fact make one responsible for fixing them.

  2. I have a problem with the attribution that [mrogivue] gave the original author of the instructable he based his instructable on. He first states it was done in partnership with the Poly University in China, then in the comments of the original instructable he says his design was based on the previous design but that his instructable has more detail. Then he doubles the price, adds a kit and then wants others to pay double so they can distribute the kits to the underprivileged?
    Sorry, this project lost its credibility with me.

  3. $150 for a small low cost printer ?

    Nice idea. But for about two or three times that.
    You can have something really good.
    Check out …

    As few as 6 printed parts (some printed twice)

    A few old cupboard shelves.
    And a RAMPS Board or simmla.
    All parts commanly available from eBay /amazon
    And you can quite often get a full kit.
    And end up with a printer with print capabilities of a $1000 printer.

    But check it out.

  4. I really like this idea.

    I’ve been working on putting together an e-waste printer my self for a while, except I’ve been trying to figure out how to use floppy drives for stepper drivers. They accept both a step and direction signal, although they don’t support microstepping and you need to defeat their POST.

    Most of the ramps board peeking out of the printer in the photo is just stepper driver circuitry, so using old floppy drives has the potential to simplify things considerably. When I can get a few more drives to experiment with, I’ll have to look at doing a write up.

    I’ve also got some thermisters from a laser-toner printer, and I’m looking at using an old-style geared extruder with the heating provided from a hot glue gun (PLA only) on a Christmas tree lighting remote/wall wart.

    After the mechanical parts, the next biggest thing to drop the cost of is the electronics, and I’d be interested if anyone has ideas for an e-waste alternative to the arduino mega traditionally used. (parallel ports/shift registers anyone?)

  5. It’s a great idea and great creativity used to pull it together.

    I love to see the up cycling of e waste giving it a new lease of life.

    But having a printer for every student is a bit like the laptop program rolled out across the country ( Australia)
    The laptops were crappy the administration of them was appalling and the real use of them wasn’t for any educational purpose. Most kids had better software and better hardware than the government program could provide.

    But in a class situation having a tool for each student in the class is essential, there is little worse than trying to perform a task but having to wait for the kid in front of you to stop stuffing around and let you have a go.
    A class full of cheap printers is better than a single quality one. ( some little rat would brake it anyway)

    PLA is great to work with – it produces adequate results and doesn’t smell too bad. Sure it has its limitations but for an introduction it’s a good place to start. The critical part to 3D printing is mastery of the modelling software. And like ANY manufacturing process desgining to meet the limitations of the process is the key to success.

  6. It is a naive idea that wastes money and resources on an item that will be discarded by most kids very rapidly with very little educational benefit. Giving kids toy tools does not teach them much at all, the time, effort and money would be better spent focusing on maximising their fundamental cognitive skills so that when they are older they have a better ability to understand and manipulate the world at an abstract level which leads to better problem solving skills and more sophisticated design concepts. Without a good design/ideas your tools are useless.

    Don’t get me wrong I’m no Luddite and I have a house full of kids and technology here, it is just that I really do see this idea as naive and, ironically, wasteful.

      1. You are confusing “how to hold a hammer with the learning geometry of framing construction”, to put it metaphorically.

        Have you any experience with teaching? I have, from age 2 to adults, and each stage of development requires very specify approaches. For the lowest common denominator, the average class, 3D object fabrication is better aimed at students that have acquired the requisite 3D visualisation, maths, mechanical and physics knowledge. If they can’t even document their ideas with a rough 3D sketch, that is rational, they are going to waste a lot of time printing useless objects.

        I’ll give you an example, say I have a young student and she is a genius, do I give her a robotics kit or let her play with materials so that she acquires an intuition for the fundamental mechanical characteristics of materials first? It depends, a kit lets her get on with programming robots, but there are sophisticated robot sims she can do that with using FOSS software. So we start with basics and let her get a feel for materials and forces, introducing the maths and physics concepts when she hit a problem that they solve. When she does get a 3D printer she will know how it works and what she can appropriately use it for because she has developed a form of literacy that allows her to express her solutions to problems in terms of geometry.

        Tools do not make you intelligent and they do not teach you anything, they allow you to express what you have learned in terms of a specific problem that you have learned. having a word processor and laser printer does not make you a writer, is another way of putting it.

        I guess I am a bit old school in that I see most “Edutainment” as bullshit, I firmly believe that it is better to teach a student to enjoy solving problems rather than be gratified by producing mostly useless trinkets.

        If you need to have young kids exploring mechanical concepts on a tactile level spending the money on well designed standardised part systems such as lego or fischertechnik would be better far better value for money and have more immediate results. I start 4 year olds on and so again if you have money it is better off spent on a Linux PC and a cheap graphics tablet.

      2. You will have to wait for my extensive reply with URLs to get out of the spam filter, but basically you need to teach ideas before kids can use them to solve problems and express solutions. It is an age/development issue.

      1. My kids already know that in the future if you don’t own the robots the robots will own you.

        I can’t predict your future but I am confident my kids will be doing a lot better than most.

  7. Wow the kit leaves the most crucial parts, the actuators, to be sourced by the buyer? Sounds like a fail to me. Even though floppy drives and dvd drives are e-waste, plenty of people don’t have access. E-waste printers only work when you have a pallet of stuff you can pull from.

  8. 150 bucks!!! WTF!!! This is a money making scam disguised as a charity.

    DVD/Floppy Drives = Free
    Computer Power Supply = Free
    Case = $1 (Can be built using the housings of the CD drives and a dollars worth of L-Brackets, no cutting required, just a bit of drilling.)
    Arduino Uno = 6-20$ (depending upon if you want to use a clone or not and the sales at the time)
    Stepper Controllers = $3.00
    Transistors = $3.00
    Extruder Hardware = around 30 dollars

    So a maximum of maybe 60-70 bucks is required to make some drives into a 3d printer. So the other 80-90 is pure profit?

    1. Without the profit motive, many things would not be done.

      Glad to see you’ve figured out a cheaper and better way. I look forward to seeing your kit and instructions in the very near future.

        1. As I said, feel free to release a cheaper version. It is very clear how this one works, and how it is built.

          This guy might sell 5 kits. That’s maybe $400 right there! He’s clearly raking in the dough for his work to present this product. He might even sell 100 kits! Bravo! That’s $8000 to pay for rent/food/bills while he works on the next version.

          I don’t know the guy’s situation. I am paid well, and I have the luxury of free time which I could use to make a cheaper version of this product. But I don’t. Does that make me a bad person, because I am not helping the poor children get cheap 3D printers?

          There is absolutely *nothing* stopping you from making a cheaper version and eating this guy’s lunch, if you truly think his profits are excessive.

          1. “If you were being forced to buy it, I’d agree.”

            In a sense you are. Foreign aid comes out of taxes, and you probably take part in some sort of charity. You would want them to spend the money on something that actually helps.

            The reality is that a lot of it is just make-work that is deliberately wasting the money, by pretending to do something very important. Selling these 3D printing kits could easily be seen as trying to grab a slice of that cake.

        2. Following up on this, the cheapest 3D printing kit I can see on my favourite Chinese retail site is $320 (free shipping!). So, wretched as this e-waste contraption might be, it’s still half the price. And with people like you working hard to get the cost down it will be even cheaper!

          1. Once a Chinese manufacturer decides to clone either the Toyrep( or the CherryPrinter(, I imagine that the price will drop further. Actually, any halfway decent printer based around the 28BYJ-48 stepper will probably beat this project handily. The era of sub-$100 3D printing will truly arrive once a printer design is developed that uses the 28BYJ-48’s without modification

  9. The economics of 3D printing, like the early days of computers, might make sense for schools to use the model of the early days of computers.

    Instead of having the printer in the classroom, send off designs to a central facility who have good printers and can do it for much less money. If 3D printing ever takes off, for some reason, that’ll be the way people do it anyway. Same way nobody makes PCBs at home any more, because much better ones are cheap and easy to have made in a factory.

    It might be nice to have one or two, maybe three, 3D printers available in the room where they do what we used to call woodwork and metalwork. Leave them going overnight, all day, whatever, so kids can see how the printing works, and gain experience. But since a print takes so long anyway, there’s no point in giving kids 1 each, they’re still going to spend most of the time ignoring it. You need just enough to do the printing necessary.

    And that’s assuming there’s a need for kids to learn how to 3D print. Programming would be much more useful. And that’s in rich countries. In poor countries, books, teachers, and food for the kids during “hungry season” where there’s only 1 meal a day would be a much more useful employment of money.

  10. Remember how useless basic education was about ICT a couple decades back? They basically bought classrooms full of computers and then all they ever really got used for was typing classes and playing Oregon Trails. For english classes, they’d run some “fill-in-blank” program that was utterly utterly boring because it was basically the same thing you did on pen and paper back in the classroom.

    “John was ____ Mary. Use a transitive verb.”

    It’s the same thing with 3D printing now.

  11. so do the kids also manufacture their own filament, or is the plan to get millions of kids buying filament? Teach the kids to recycle, sort plastics by type, and turn them into their respective filaments, made from recycled plastics. then, let the kids sell their recycled filament online and BAM! now they’re not so poor.
    Also, I agree with the people who say just buy one awesome 3D printer, let it print 24/7 all the kids designs. also use it to print parts for their individual 3D printers, which they will learn how to build entirely from scratch. that’s right, teach them to solder, to program, to build with their own hands. then they build machines to build for them.

    kids today are so lucky. we had oregon trail, 2-D puzzles, books made from trees, They have Portal, 3D printers, Laptops, etc. Computer programming wasn’t even an option in high school curriculum, had to wait til 13th grade to buy those expensive books and learn the wrong language. I realize that not all kids have the opportunity to play with robotics, programming, app development, etc.. but the fact that anyone is learning those sorts of things at an age where their brain is all fresh and malleable is pretty cool. Kids today have the opportunity to do things that were pretty much just science fiction when we were their age.

  12. Hiya all, I’m the guy who developed the Curiosity 3D Printer and wrote the Instructables. I would like to thank you all for your comments, both positive and negative. Let’s try to keep it friendly!

    Personally, I don’t really see the point about whether we should rather educate kids about how to build a simple 3D Printer or about 3D design… It’s like saying “Physics is better than Math. We therefore should only teach Physics”. Why not teach both? I certainly don’t “insist” on anything. If they like to build stuff and are interested in 3D Printing, then they’re welcome to join my workshops and we all are having lots of fun while learning about building, making, 3D printing, robotics, Arduinos as well as recycling, upcycling and EWaste.

    While it’s correct that the printers have limited functionality as a 3D Printer, they are a fantastic educational toy and it doesn’t hurt that they actually do work and some of the kids print stuff that even amaze some 3D Printer specialists! They are certainly not a source of never-ending frustration, on the contrary!

    Regarding price: In fully aware that the printer can be built for 120$ or even less, that’s why I put this price in the title. I think $120 is a realistic price that includes good quality materials, taxes and shipping costs. I didn’t want to publish an Instructables with a price tag which can’t realistically be achieved just to be the lowest price printer on Instructables. I think prices of many other projects are unrealistic in the real world and their comments seem to agree with me. Even the180$ Tiny Boy was a sellout that’s long gone. Only few of the printers have been available for this price and they’re all sold out. The original price was almost double of that. In any case, the instructables encourages people to build it themselves for low cost. The kit on is only offered as an alternative. As indicated on the site, we charge a slightly higher price in order to hopefully finance some kids that can’t afford the printer or the workshop. Believe me, this is not a get-rich-quickly scheme; after PayPal fees and retailers margin, we get 20-30$ per kit. If that’s too much, everyone is welcome to source the parts on their own, that is the beauty of open source and Instructables.

    Would a $25 printer be better? Absolutely! But I doubt it’s more viable…

    Regarding OLPC: Was the project be perfectly executed? Probably not. However, I think the idea and the selfless effort of the people involved is very commendable! I’m positive that it did more good than bad and that’s all that counts in my view. Again, is Amazon Fire better than OLPC? Probably yes, but what’s the point? Why can’t we have both? Besides OLPC was way earlier than the Fire.

    Anyway, I never pretended that the Curiosity is the best or cheapest printer out there. Like someone mentioned, if this project motivates someone to create a better/cheaper solution, then I would be very happy as I think my personal objective and the very core idea of Instructables and the open source would have been achieved!

    Let’s just keep it friendly here. That is my wish.

    1. ” I don’t really see the point about whether we should rather educate kids about how to build a simple 3D Printer”

      It’s about priorities. Do people in developing countries want to spend the equivalent of half a year’s income per kid to build a toy printer out of junk? We’re talking about places where having toilet paper is just showing off.

  13. Great! Now when there is a HaD article that incorporates a 3d print and the whiners get on about how excluded they feel when posts involve tools they do not posess we can point them here! :-)

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