Inspiring a generation

3D printers are giving young people hands-on experience and invaluable insight into the process of designing, says Louise Geekie

1.) What recent advances have been made in 3D printing within the education sector?

Currently, primary and secondary schools, as well as universities in the UK are starting to make greater use of 3D printers in design technology classes. Due to the relatively low cost of the material, schools are purchasing low-cost printers that use plastic filament rather than metal powder.

These machines are giving aspiring young people hands-on experience in additive manufacturing and invaluable insight into the process of designing, printing and creating their own 3D components.

In an attempt to inspire the next generation of 3D engineers, additive manufacturers are also getting more involved with the education sector by hosting experiential visits to factories and taking on work placements.  For example, Croft Additive Manufacturing has worked with The Blair Project in Leigh to give high school students access to industrial printers. 

2.) We’ve seen 3D printing being used in many sectors but has it really moved forward in our schools and universities?

3D printing is certainly becoming more and more engrained within our education sector but there is definitely still scope for further growth.

Students are still able to pick up the basic design principles of additive manufacturing from using a 3D plastic printer. However, I feel that universities and schools need to allow those looking to work with metals greater access to high-end industrial printers, such as those employed by CAM.  

Currently, many universities do not have metal 3D printers available for students to use for their individual projects and engineering students have often come directly to us in order to print their components.

3.) In your opinion, what skills can young learners gain from having 3D printing in the classroom? 

There are very specific computing abilities as well as design and advanced problem solving skills which young people can develop through classroom learning. Like many things, additive manufacturing takes time and effort to master and any hands-on experience visualising components in 3D and effectively applying designs into a build can help young people build up their confidence, ability and understanding of AM. 

4.) 3D printers are generally still quite expensive; do the benefits it can bring to teaching and learning justify the costs? 

For schools it’s probably a better idea to purchase a low-end printer and engage with technological centers, universities and manufacturers that have already bought or received funding for high-end machines. For university students, hands-on experience dealing advanced industry equipment can prove invaluable when seeking employment.

5.) Will 3D printing continue to grow in education – and will these machines be a classroom staple in years to come? 

Currently, the education sector is in the early stages of adopting 3D printing into the classroom. However, as solving the STEM skills gap becomes more and more urgent, we expect to see an increase in industry demand for students with strong computing and design abilities. In order to meet this demand, schools and universities will have to further invest in manufacturing technology, such as 3D printers, that helps young people gain access into STEM careers. Fortunately, current trends suggest that AM technology is developing rapidly and costs associated with 3D printing are falling, making it easier for educational institutions to purchase more advanced machines.

Louise Geekie is Project Director at Croft Additive Manufacturing


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