Printing in 3D is steadily transforming the world through innovation, speed, localised manufacturing and empowering the creativity of the individual.
Where computers and mobile technology changed the world and the landscape within education, 3D printing will add another dimension to learning and give rise to the next generation of engineers, designers, entrepreneurs, artists, and industry innovators.
The concept of industrial 3D printing has been around for many decades, used within industries such as aerospace, automotive, product development and engineering. However, since the rise of the RepRap project in 2009, desktop 3D printing has taken leaps and bounds resulting in a technology now suitable for offices, classrooms and households.
The importance of 3D printing is not just focused on the desktop version, which traditionally uses materials such as plastic, but also focuses on medical and bio 3D printing. The Geno Project has played a significant role in creating 3D printed organs, cell tissue and blood vessels through to innovating cosmetic and reconstructive surgery, for example.
If we take a moment to consider learning – innovating and exciting the classroom, transforming learning processes, and introducing the ability to simplify complex design processes can all be achieved quite simply with a 3D printer.
Design and technology
Complex designs and products can be printed and manufactured quickly and efficiently. Printing in 3D enables a more seamless process, allowing the user to modify the design, tailor sizing, add additional features and use a variety of materials ranging from traditional plastics in solid or transparent colours to wood, chalk and rubber. The entirety of this process creates a great foundation for higher education.
3D printing robots
Robotics and 3D printing are closely becoming aligned, with leading robotic androids now featuring 3D printable parts.
The importance of robotics within education remains in its infancy although sectors such as warehousing, manufacturing, engineering, finance and technology have been transformed. It seems fair to say that the next generation shall use robotics in a variety of forms and situations within the home and work.
3D printable robots can educate students in a variety of key skills, such as engineering, mechanics, electronics and programming. For example, BQ has introduced PrintBots, a simple 3D Printable Robot kit aimed at all ages with 10 easy steps.
The exciting aspects of kits of this nature ensures the process does not stop once the robot has been built. Instead, the process can develop further to programming, additional printable parts can be downloaded for print, and those students who want to push the boundaries and challenge their computer-aided design (CAD) skills can create their own unique parts for their robots.
3D printing art has challenged the traditional concepts and processes in art and we now have a new generation of 3D printing artists and enthusiasts. It has helped empower the creativity of students to create complex and unique pieces, from jewellery, abstract shapes and concepts to replicating traditional art formats such as statutes, vases and interior design pieces. 3D printing can also be used to simplify complex designs and introduce 3D CAD into art lessons.
The ability to innovate in science can be seen with the rise of industry bio and medical 3D printers and the introduction of 3D printers into science at an early stage will give the first foundation of how this technology is changing the landscape of medicine, healthcare and science. 3D printing can be used in a variety of formats, such as printable dissection kits – the dissection of a frog printed in plastic to illustrate key organs and discuss how they work and fit together. Moveable joints, working mechanical hands and a pivoting solar system can also illustrate the subject area, creating and necessitating group projects and activities.
History, geography, maths
3D printing can have a place in all subject areas. Learning can come to life by turning back time and creating dinosaurs, fossils and historical features such as pyramids, Roman helmets and castles. Designs can be versatile and be printed as a whole or in stages to demonstrate key syllabus objectives and to further educate the student of the workings of 3D printing, thus allowing a multitude of skills to be learnt and developed simultaneously.
In maths, questions such as how parts interact with each other and the regularities and symmetries of various parts may come to mind. The boundaries can now be explored further by printing tangible parts, such as moveable cogs, a working abacus and mathematical shapes.
Geography lessons can also benefit significantly, recreating complex structures such as volcanoes and sediments in parts or stages to illustrate the inner workings or create 3D terrains of various world locations.
From Games of Thrones to Hollywood sci-fi blockbusters, 3D printing has transformed film sets with leading prop-makers using the technology. Drama students can use this outlet to be creative and work with various 3D printing materials to create a range of props and allow productions to become one step closer to realism.
With all new technologies, the concept can seem at times confusing and complicated. However, we are now entering the third generation of desktop 3D printing and the process is as simple as plug and print. The design process, which comes in tandem, could also be considered daunting – however, with software such as Google Sketchup and TinkerCad, 3D CAD has also become a simpler process.
The cost of 3D printing and printers has also decreased significantly with a variety of education-friendly 3D printers now available from around £550. This downward cost trend will continue, making it an accessible tool within schools.