In just four years the 3D printing industry will be worth $4.42 billion, according to a report from Futuresource Consulting. Currently being used for a range of purposes from healthcare to design and prototyping, the scope for 3D printers is seemingly endless. One area in which the technology can be used is in schools to help engage students.
From 2012 – 2013 the Department of Education installed 3D printers in 21 schools throughout the UK to explore how they could be used to encourage students in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), and design subjects. Most schools taking part reported a great interest in STEM subjects after the project took place, showing that these machines can not only help businesses progress, but also encourage young people’s enthusiasm within technology and science. Here we explore some of the ways that 3D printers can be used in different lessons, to help bring education to life:
Design is one of the main industries that has already benefited from 3D printing technology. Product designers as well as architects and fashion designers can all take advantage of the ability to produce one off prototypes and block models to test ideas and structures, without needing to invest in expensive tooling straight away. The ability to test designs in iterations throughout the design process results in a final product that is more streamlined, cheaper and functional, therefore also helping to benefit the end user.
For budding young designers, it is essential to learn about 3D printing and Computer Aided Design (CAD) with which it goes hand-in-hand. Children and teenagers have increasing access to technology both inside and outside school. By teaching students how to use a greater variety of software programmes, this provides greater opportunities for their future careers, arming them with useful skills. Students can experiment in class by using the technology to create functional prototypes, without the complexity (or danger) associated with traditional tools and machinery.
Experimentation is also of obvious importance in science; 3D printing can be used to build bespoke models or equipment for chemistry or biology lessons. It could also be used to create objects to specified proportions, in order to test theoretical hypotheses for physics classes.
At a higher and more advanced level, 3D printing technology has still not yet reached its potential in areas such as bio-printing or 3D printed electronics, so university and college students could explore these exciting and innovative areas.
Maths is an undoubtedly challenging subject for many students, but teachers could help to engage young children and adults by using 3D models to explain mathematical principals, rather than simply focusing on exercises in books. Complex geometry, for example, or trigonometric functions, could be illustrated using 3D printed models to help students quite literally visualise problems, in 3D. CAD programmes utilise geometric principals, so the act of working with the software to design and build digital models, also helps to demonstrate the importance of maths in broader reaching subjects. This also allows for amendments to be made quickly and easily, and the effects to be seen instantly.
Like design, engineering was one of the first industries to take advantage of 3D printing technology and it has become an essential tool for engineers across the world. With that in mind, 3D printing and CAD are once again a must for any engineering student. The technology can be used to help test and for the production of functioning prototypes, demonstrating well engineered solutions. The ability to design and print elements or parts instantly during class could also help to boost creativity and problem solving skills.
3D printing holds great potential for the creative industries and increasingly, artists are using the technology as a medium in itself. The interesting textures, complex geometries and creative structures that 3D printing can produce make it capable of making sculptures which are otherwise impossible using any other manufacturing method. The technology can also be used to produce unusual moulds so that sculptures can be recreated in other materials such as bronze for example, or for the production of scaled down models before a final sculpture is built.
3D printing holds great potential in numerous sectors, not least in education. In order to prepare the next generation for their future careers, they must be equipped with new skills in line with the changing technology landscape. But aside from developing greater understanding, 3D printing also presents opportunities for building more interesting lesson plans, resulting in a more engaged class. We live in an age in which students can literally bring their ideas in life, converting them from a sketch on paper into a perfect 3D model – and what could be more exciting than that.
Dave McNally, product marketing director, Dell Imaging, EMEA