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Why 3D printing in Education

Why 3D printing in education? … that’s quite a question! ….. I started twittering recently ( @davewhite60 ) and now have a few followers. And because of this a fellow teacher started to wonder what this 3D printing is all about…. Well, he started by browsing my blog and then started asking questions, so I put my thoughts together and here’s what I came up with…


– Why is this technology important in education? Why do you dream that one day every school might have a 3D printer?


· 3D printing technology is new… It is developing really quickly and as educators we can’t afford to miss out on keeping up with new technologies. Students need to be aware of current industrial and commercial practices and the BfB machines are so affordable (both to purchase and the materials to run them) that this technology becomes “accessible” to them.

· Rapid prototyping in schools has been limited to subtractive technologies… again costly in hardware and consumable materials, especially for complex parts. Designers and industrialist are moving towards additive technologies for prototyping and small batch production.

· The use of 3D printing opens up a fast route to “Iterative designing”… students are able to design 3D parts, print, test and evaluate them… if it doesn’t work then try again. This inevitably increases innovation in designs that the students produce.

· It is possible for students to produce designs that are “impossible” to manufacture -even with 4 axis subtractive machines, yet these can be realised through 3D printing. Students have been “limited” in the past to designing and making things that can only be made by hand or through simple machine processes… to a great extent this limitation is virtually removed – “if you can draw it you can make it”… almost.

· Student engagement…. Once they have mastered 3D designing and have produced their first 3D print they keep coming back for more! Holding a realistic 3D model in your hands communicates infinitely better than a computer image… a real wow factor.

· 3D printing is not just for D&T… Artistic sculptural forms can be designed and made; Geographers can model 3D terrain; Mathematical shapes can be modelled; Architectural and historical buildings/structures studied as 3D models; Moulds for food products; Cells, atoms, DNA and other scientific concepts can be modelled… etc. etc.

· There are strong links to PLTS (Personal Learning and Thinking Skills). Creative thinkers and Reflective Learners… through iterative design processes. Team workers and Effective participants… collaborative design/make projects. etc


– What would you say to a school leader or Headteacher to persuade them to invest? (Maybe similar to the above).


· I think this has been pretty much covered in the above from the “Learning” point of view. But seeing this technology in action is by far the best persuasive argument!

· Economy… A BfB machine costing less than £1k is probably the least expensive 3D CAD/CAM option available to schools and running costa are low at approx. £45 per kilo…. For the cost of one “big” machine you could have a machine in every D&T room.

· Why not consider a RapMan as a “start-up” project for an engineering course or club…. Lots to be learned about engineering principals assembling a kit… and a fully working machine at the end of the project as a bonus.


– What, in your opinion, is the ‘future’ of this technology?


· Wow, quite a question!!! Not so long ago people dreamed of having a computer in their home, and then PC’s came along. People dreamed of communication “on the move” for the masses, everyone now has a mobile phone with the computing capacity that rivals desktop computers of only a few years ago… so what about 3D printers…. Every home will have one, well maybe not every home but 3D printing will be more accessible to the masses to make spare parts for broken appliances, create bespoke components/objects, etc. just download the design and print it at home.

· Industrial applications may mean that stocks of spare parts no longer need to be kept… just print a new one.

· Medical/dental applications…. “Bio printing” spare parts for the human body.. a technology that is in its infancy.


– Are there any existing problems in the world that this technology can/might be able to solve?


Without going too far into the realms of fantasy…

· A 3D printer is/could be a “workshop on the desktop”, manufacturing complex designs in remote locations (even outer space) or in less economically developed countries becomes a reality.

· A physical bridge between cyberspace and physical reality… sending 3D objects around the world… without actually shipping them.

· But perhaps the medical/bio applications are where the greatest impact on mankind will happen


– Any *brilliant* ideas? (No obligation) What might the future hold?


· Woaaa…. Where did I put my crystal ball and my rose tinted binoculars???

1 Comment

  1. Great to know the role of 3d printing in education. Your blog gave answers to many questions. Thanks for writing such a helpful blog!!

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