Using 3D printers in education

3D printing is an innovative rapid prototyping technology where molten plastic is laid down (printed) layer by layer to produce a 3 dimensional object. This is known as “additive manufacturing” as material is added to form the model rather than being machined off as in normal (subtractive manufacturing) forms of production.
3D printing is not a new technology but it is currently undergoing a huge growth around the world and in many new fields of manufacturing. This is partly due to the advancement of new techniques and the reduction of the cost of machines and their consumables. 3D printing has become very affordable with machines now costing less than $5000 with running costs as low as 10 cents per gram for strong ABS plastic.

This makes it a good time for educators and students to develop their skills in this form of technology and to follow the advancements currently being experienced in industry. Using 3D printer technology in schools will help equip students with the necessary skills to enter this rapidly moving technology.
3D printing provides new advantages that may revolutionise education. Many curriculum areas require students to think, to problem solve and to design. This technology will enable students to test the aesthetic, ergonomic and functional properties of their designs with a solid model rather than just a virtual model.
3D printing can be used to:

• help conceptualise/visualise a design in the development stage – aesthetics, ergonomics
• test functionality of design ideas during the development stages
• make low cost successive modifications to prototypes
• produce finalised designs for presentation to a client
• produce short run manufacturing of a product

3D printing is a ground-breaking technological which offers novel advantages to assist in the fulfilment of a productive educational experience; it is only reasonable that schools begin utilising 3D printers.