TinkerCAD is just a fantastic starting place for introducing children to 3D design and 3D printing. It’s free, cloud based and most importantly, extremely user friendly and fun. Children love ‘tinkering’ with designs and it’s very forgiving. One of the barriers to more advanced 3D CAD packages is they can be quite overwhelming to young children who are starting out with 3D printing. By starting out with TinkerCAD you can break down that initial barrier to 3D design. This was one of the main reasons why we decided to use TinkerCAD in our beginners 3D printing lesson pack. It’s quick and easy to get started with and super fun for kids. The added benefit of it being cloud browser based, with no software to download, means that children can continue designing at home (great for homework or finishing work that was not completed in class). Also as the files are saved in the ‘cloud’ this means no hard disk space is used. The only storage you need is when you download the 3D designs you have created as stl files to then 3D print.
How to start out with TinkerCAD
Starting out with TinkerCAD is easy, all you need to do is create an account to gain access and then you are all set to start modelling. If you have a class of children who are under 12, you need to give the children a TinkerCAD access code. To do this click on the ‘teach’ tab and you can easily generate a code to give to your class. Then once logged in you can start creating designs easily.
The setup is simple, you have a blue platform (called the workplane) and a palette of 3D shapes on the right hand side of the browser. All you need to do is drag and drop the 3D shapes and then resize them. You can merge shapes together, cut parts of shapes away, group 3D shapes into new shapes, duplicate features and easily export the models for 3D printing.
One of the great things about TinkerCAD is the terminology used introduces children to CAD modelling terms from the start. An example of this being the workplane feature. All CAD packages use workplanes and with more advanced packages such as Fusion 360 you can do some very advanced modelling by adding new workplanes. Embedding this understanding from the outset is vital to teaching 3D design correctly. With the beginners pack using TinkerCAD and the Intermediate and Advanced pack using Fusion 360 children are being taught the correct terminology from the very start of their 3D printing education.
The two images above show how easy it is to create a model in TinkerCAD. This is one of the design challenges in the beginners lesson pack. Children have to design a small peg with jaws that can be used to keep food packets closed. It’s quick and easy to model in TinkerCAD and also easy to print. Children can also easily customise it with text or a design as well. The challenge increases when working to given measurements and tolerances. This TinkerCAD model is made up of three features, a rectangle, circle and duplicated square that is used as a cut out.
To download your TinkerCAD file, you just need to press the export button. This will then bring up a pop up box asking what to include. Select ‘everything in the design’ and then choose your file format e.g. STL or OBJ and the model is downloaded automatically. In terms of the time taken to create a model like this in lesson, children should be able to create it accurately in under 20 minutes. With this being part of the TinkerCAD design challenge lesson your children will be able to save the design and then move up a level in the modelling tasks.
More advanced TinkerCAD modelling.
TinkerCAD is extremely easy to use at the initial point is use, but what about if you want to model some more complex models? On the TinkerCAD website there are some very impressive models shown, but how easy are they to create? We decided to attempt a nut and bolt. These designs can be incredibly tricky to model accurately and when printed out there is very little tolerance between success and failure. The modelling of this was quite straight forward and fast. The only two features used were the polygon feature and the ISO metric metric thread model (this was found under the featured shape generator tab). Once the model of the bolt was created it was then a case of copying and pasting the model so there was a duplicate. The next stage was to select one of the screw threads and then change it from a solid to a ‘hole’. This then cut out the internal screw thread on the ‘nut’ section of the model. We then grouped them together.
Importing and edit
You can even import an existing STL file into TinkerCAD and easily edit or customise it. STL files used to be incredibly tough to alter, but as 3D printing has advanced it is more commonplace and easier to do now. This feature in TinkerCAD is extremely powerful. We imported a thingiverse design and decided to give it a quick veroni revamp that was found in the ‘featured shapes generators’. All we did was drag and drop the feature, align it, group them both together and then use the hollow feature. This then cut out the veroni design into the base of the bookend and gave the design a much needed remix. This took less than two minutes of modelling in TinkerCAD.
TinkerCAD is a win win for the classroom
The great thing about TinkerCAD for education is the ease of use and the name says it all, you have to ‘tinker’ with it. Once you get into the flow of resizing shapes and using the ‘hollow’ feature you can design some complex advanced models in a relatively fast amount of time. With our beginners lessons being based around TinkerCAD this sets the foundation to embedding 3D CAD and 3D printing into young children from day one of learning.
There are two ways that you can work in TinkerCAD, firstly you can model by eye and just experiment with the different shapes by stretching and stacking them. Or secondly, you could work accurately with measurements and design a part to the required size. This is what our TinkerCAD lessons do. Gives children design challenges based on given measurements.
TinkerCAD is also customisable in terms of how you want to work. You have the ability to add new workplanes, set the grid scale and choose if you want to work in metric or imperial scale. The possibilities are endless really.
To read more about our TinkerCAD lessons read the lesson descriptions in lessons 1 to 7 here.