Additive manufacturing (AM) has become an important tool in the product development cycle, and its use is only likely to increase over time. Future engineers and designers will be expected to understand how AM systems work and how to design for 3D printing. Education is the key to understanding, particularly education in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) subjects.
Recognizing the necessity for education in AM technology, the UK launched a pilot program in 2012 that brought 3D printers to 21 primary and secondary schools. A year later, a report on the success of the project has led to a further £500,000 investment, adding AM systems to 60 additional schools.
“[3D printing] Moves pupils away from the practicality of design (i.e. how to use a saw) and allows more opportunity to see how maths and science are an integral part of the process,” said David Jermy, Settlebeck School.
Throughout the study, educators reported high levels of interest in working with the 3D printing, particularly in cases of non-traditional instruction. After receiving an overview on how to work with the technology, students would be given a task to complete and basically left to their own devices. In place of a teacher hovering over their shoulders, the students seemed to enjoy the trial-and-error process of designing and printing objects.
“Older pupils who were familiar with the design cycle (plan, design, make and evaluate) were able to exploit the use of the 3D printer to shorten the “make” phase as the printer was quicker at producing items,” said S Griffin-Raphael, the Windsor Boys School. “This meant it was possible to spend more time on “design” and “evaluate” to produce a better quality product.”
Students and educators found a number of different uses for the AM systems that landed on their doorsteps. Science departments used the 3D printer to discuss the properties of plastics, built models such as molecules, eyeballs, cells and sine waves to complement studies in diverse subjects, and built components for working experiments such as rockets.
The Honywood Community Science School in Essex designed an advanced 3D development learning tool, enabling pupils to create 3D objects using typed code in POV-Ray3. This gave students the opportunity to practice writing and debugging code, and also supported studying algebra and understanding 3D/2D space.
It seems to me the US could use a similar education initiative if American companies want to stay ahead of the AM curve. In this era of congressional wrangling, it seems unlikely this sort of support could come from the Federal government, but this does seem like a good area for investment by individual states. Schools that encourage STEM subjects by any means are more likely to prepare their students for essential jobs in the future, and 3D printing is certainly part of that picture.
Below you’ll find a short video about AM education.