We’ve talked at length with CEL Technologies about the power of 3D printing in education. The company’s flagship Robox 3D printer is already being offered to 5,000 schools across the UK, it’s been paired with the BBC micro:bit to kick-start children’s imagination into engineering thanks to a partnership with Kitronik, and it’s so easy to use that even a novice like me couldn’t go wrong when I put the Robox to the test last year.
Dr Liam Fox at CEL.
Exciting things have been going on at CEL HQ this month as Liam Fox, MP of North Somerset and Andrew Barker from the James Dyson Foundation paid a visit to talk about how 3D printing is boosting engagement in STEM (Science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects in UK schools.
We spoke to Chris Elsworthy, founder and inventor of the Robox to find out more.
Hi Chris, tell us about what’s been going at CEL to help engage children in STEM subjects?
We’ve done a number of things to try to get engineers and young scientists motivated and excited about engineering and. We think that this (partnering with the James Dyson Foundation) is an awesome way to engage children in an area that sometimes can be boring or where they aren’t allowed to use the tools. 3D printing is a way to let children get hold of the technology and use it to produce a huge variety of products with very low risk or very little training and that’s why we think it suits STEM and education in general really well.
The Robox 3D printer is already in thousands of UK schools – have you noticed a change in attitude towards the technology and STEM subjects in general?
The truth is it’s probably too early to tell. I think there are individual children that are getting more excited about engineering but whether we can make a bigger more global difference or even a national difference, it’s a bit early to tell. When we speak to schools it’s not the first time they’ve
seen a 3D printer and in many cases they’re on to their second round of 3D printers. They might have brought some other brand back in the day when it started to become popular but now they’ve got a much better idea of how they can fit it into the general syllabus. No when they make a choice for the printer it’s a much more informed choice, some of the features on our machine like the enclosed build volume and you don’t have to programme the information – these are the feature they’re looking for in a 3D printer. The first machine they bought, it was just because they needed a 3D printer and it might only be used or rolled out during parent’s evening to show that the school is forward thinking but as soon as the parent’s evening finished it gets put back in its box until the next parent’s evening. I think from the schools we’ve seen and the schools we’re working with now they’re using it on a very regular basis helping not just design and technology but also the sciences and even through to drama where we’ve seen schools printing medallions and brooches for a Shakespeare play – it’s penetrating into education in a much broader way than I personally imagined.
This simplicity must be a welcome change not just for students but for teachers too?
Just like any technology like the whiteboards or 3D printers they just want to be able to press print and something comes out. Robox doesn’t scare people off because it’s simple. I think it’s a change we’re seeing in society in general now. 10 years ago it wasn’t cool to be a geek, being a geek you were an outcast, and now the geek trend is the cool way forward. You can see the public dressing to portray a geek outlook and wanting to be into science and technology, wanting to have the latest technology and I think that’s why 3D printing is going to be so relevant in the coming years.
CEL is the first 3D printing company to partner with the James Dyson Foundation – what’s the aim of this partnership?
The James Dyson foundation are wanting to approach STEM so from their point of view they want to approach school leavers who have got a good education in engineering and technology and are thinking in the correct way to do innovative development. They’re very focused on making sure children are thinking in the right way and one of the things that they’re talking about is making sure children aren’t afraid to fail. They can do a design and it’s very often that you learn more from the failures than you do from the success and we come into that because 3D printing is obviously a platform where you can print something and there’s no huge cost to doing it, if it fails you learn something and you amend your design and go on and do another one.
How does the Robox fit into this?
The James Dyson Foundation is telling people about this experience where you must try and not be worried about failure. In fact, try for a failure and know that you’ll learn something from the trying. We’re offering that platform to James Dyson in the Robox that allows the children to have the tools to produce something that can truly quantify whether their design was workable or not.
Kids just love watching the whole process so it’s another draw for them just. Quite often in schools, the cool stuff is given to the technician and not given to the children to use directly.
James Dyson has been buying our 3D printers and delivering them into schools. There’s even one that’s taken the Robox to Rwanda. It’s been a social project where they’ve showed the locals about technology that they’re using in their schools and they left the 3D printer there as a gift to the school to show how they can be used in an education environment.
What message do you hope to deliver at today’s event?
I’m hoping Liam will push the STEM side of project in the UK. We’ve seen other societies like Germany thrive against an engineering background through the economic downturn. That engineering core has seen them through and they’ve risen above. I’d like to express the fact that if we can keep working on our intellectual property, which I think is the UK’s biggest output at the moment and we tie that in with great engineers and people that can actually produce the goods, then we’ll have a much more stable society. I think that just goes back to education STEM and the fact that we need to be heavily devoted to these subjects and give schools the tools.
For more on Robox and 3D printing in education, check out Chris Elsworthy's blog.