Today we are going to Thingiverse to one of their curated collections on 3D Printed Marble Machines. I love these things, kids watch these, and they are fascinated by them. Logan Airport in Boston has a great installation. I don’t know if listeners know that Tom is from Boston. In one of the terminals in Boston, there is a big Rube Goldberg machine, which is a permanent installation. It’s a serious machine made of steel and wood and plastic, and it’s constantly moving. Your kids could sit there for hours. Adults do, too.
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3D Printed Marble Machines
I love that they have curated this collection of 3D Printed Marble Machines on Thingiverse. Some of these are really cool and sophisticated. Again, we only highlighted ones that there are photos of because some of the other ones that we like haven’t been built yet, but a lot of them have. Some that are just renderings of a model dropped out of contention for our top five picks. Maybe they haven’t finished printing them yet, but there are some cool designs here.
What I think is really interesting is that there is a video feature in Thingiverse so you can see it running, which is really great. But I think there was a lot of creativity in mixing plastic color parts to mixing forms to more of a rail design or a wheel design. There are even some that are motorized. There are some cool ideas out here, some great projects.
What I really like about them is not only are they fun, but when you think about getting kids interested in STEAM projects and learning 3D printing as part of it, look at what they can do here. This is amazing. This involves physics, geometry, electricity sometimes, the design and art of it. These 3D printed marbles machines bring it all together. If I were going to be teaching kids about 3D printing and wanting to do projects that they learn a lot of different things within it, I think this is a great one to be looking at. There is a great complexity and sophistication to it, but it also has a lot of real world science and engineering problems to solve.
It’s reminding me that our daughter just got this STEM certificate from school for her first grade. We enroll her in this after-school STEM program. I am kind of disappointed. The Lego class she took a semester ago was better than this one because at least in the Legos, she is building something. For this one, I haven’t quite figured out what spaghetti art has to do with STEM besides the art part. This is supposed to be a STEM class anyway, not a STEAM class. They are only in first grade now. I question every single project she has brought home. They are hot gluing recycled objects together, and I’m not sure what that has to do with STEM.
We didn’t go to our daughter’s classes, so we can’t really speak to what was taught there. I understand that what came home didn’t impress us, that’s true. This is another level. This is junior high school and high school level, not that it has to be. You could start doing stuff like this in elementary school programs. When you are getting junior high school and high school students using electricity and motors, wow, what a wonderful project.
3D Printed Marble Machines – Top Picks
Let’s run down our top five picks out of this group. The first one is the Marblevator, which has some electricity powering it to lift the marbles from the bottom to the top, then the marbles are running down the ramps. There are quite a few of these Marblevators. A lot of them have that same name when you look at the page, but our favorite one is by Gzumwalt. It’s really impressive. Above is the video of it so you can see it running.
The second one we want to make note of is called 3D Printed Marble Machine #3 by Tulio. Tulio has a few in there that are really cool. It almost looks like a castle, which is awesome. As a 3D print, this thing is really intricate and complex in a beautiful way. This is not just an elementary 3D print. The 3D model it took to create this is rather impressive. Hats off to Tulio for that one.
The next one is pretty cool. It’s called the Cyclone Triple Lift Triple Track. It has that sand castley feel to it, but it has these cyclone sections that it speeds up in. That is by Mroek.
This one is really cool, and it involves some cool light. This one is Tracy’s favorite; it’s called Marblatron by Jpod. I loved that in the video they start one marble, and then they start the other, and they get synced, which is really cool. They are making the lights change because of the way they are shadowing. It’s really cool. There is definitely some relationship between LED lights and how they are rotating around the object. It’s a fairly simple cylinder design, but the effect is great.
That simple cylinder design is worth noting because if you are looking for a print to do that is not tremendously complex or may take less time to print than some of these other ones, this one probably prints pretty quickly because it’s not as massive in scope.
The last one is another Marblevator by the same creator who did the first one on our list, and this one is called the Marvelvator Baby Steps. I thought this one was creative because it has different colored pieces, and it’s an interactive machine where you wind it and the marble goes back and forth across the steps.
I thought it was an interesting interaction, very different than the others. I thought the use of color made it more special. Not only that, but it’s also very different in form and in function from a lot of the others. It stood out to me partly because of the color, but mostly due to what it’s trying to achieve in the function, which it does very well.
3D Printed Marble Machines – Final Thoughts
There are other 3D printed marble machines that remind me of Mouse Trap the game, and there is one like a Christmas tree, which is neat. How fun would it be to have this object you put out at a holiday and have marbles run through? There is a lot of good potential there.
I also like how there are a lot of different ways that some of these machines lift the ball bearings from the bottom to the top. Some of them use a worm gear screw in a vertical orientation that rotates and moves the ball up. Others made something that looks like a Ferris wheel of sorts that grabs them and takes them up from the bottom to the top. Others have a lever operated by a turning motor that reminds me of a car windshield wiper, how it goes back and forth. And others use different kinds of gears turning and capturing the ball. So many wonderful ways to do it.
If you open up some students’ minds to the potential of these things and challenge them with trying to achieve certain types of motion or functions or speed, you can pick your criteria and they would go nuts with something like this. They would have a great time and not even realize how much they are learning about physics principles and geometry.
You could start with a fairly simple one, like the cylinder, as your project. Everybody makes exactly the same one. Then you could say, “Okay, I want you to do an experiment in which you try to put the marble at double speed. What are you going to change? What aspect are you going to do? Are you going to make the wheels farther apart? Will you create a steeper angle? How will you do this? How will you achieve this?” That kind of iterative process, changing one variable at a time, will teach kids so much about the scientific method, about the process of physics. That is a great way to do it in a really easy way. Could you imagine if you had to rebuild your machine by hand? It would take forever; it would be terrible.
The challenge I would throw out if I was the teacher would be to give everyone the same kind of cubic volume of space to work within. I would challenge them saying that the winning design would be one where the ball bearing is the same, but the amount of time it takes for the ball bearing to travel from the very top to the very bottom of it went as slow as possible. It has to get there, but you want to do it as slow as possible without ever stopping, defying gravity or having it have to travel so far and have so much track that it’s going all over the place and takes a while to get down. That would be cool. Of course, you have to give bonus points for artistic measures.
We hope these 3D printed marble machines inspires you to work on great projects. Kudos to Thingiverse for curating this collection of marble machines. Great job all of you designers as well. Cool stuff. Keep it up. We look forward to seeing future projects from these people, too. This is impressive. We can’t wait to see more of these 3D printed marble machines.
If you have any projects you’d like to propose to us or design inspirations for Fridays, let us know below in the comments.
- Marblevator by Gzumwalt
- 3D Printed Marble Machine #3 by Tulio
- The Cyclone by Mroek
- Marblatron by Jpod
- Marblevator Baby Steps
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