The future of making things

Written by: Various | Published:
Designs for life: Teachers taking part in the STEM Learning/Autodesk Design School

The STEM Learning and Autodesk Design School is helping teachers to get up-to-speed with modern design and manufacturing technology and techniques so that they can incorporate the future of making things into their lessons…

Gemma Taylor, Technology CPD lead, STEM Learning

How things are made is a common topic in the design and technology classroom but I wonder how many students have stopped to think what the future of making will be? What will the factories of the future look like? What will be made in them? Will they even exist?

The traditional picture of assembly lines and workers putting parts together is quickly becoming a history lesson. Manufacturing is now a matter of closing the gap between digital ideas and physical product, making what can be imagined a reality and personalising it for each customer. The fourth industrial revolution is using digital design and manufacture to move the information age to the imagination age. Who would have thought it?

As a teacher, my big question is, how do we make this future of making a reality for our students? Working with Autodesk and its UK education manager Steven Parkinson has allowed us to create the Autodesk Design School, developing the skillset and mind-set change that is needed if we are to prepare students for the industry 4.0 future.

Steven Parkinson, UK education manager, Autodesk

For me it is all about inspiring the next generation of designers and engineers. Design and manufacturing are converging, completely disrupting the mind-set of a designer or engineer. Computers are becoming so sophisticated that it is no longer about telling them what you want do to, but what you want to achieve – and this leads to some astonishing results.

We brought Autodesk into the classroom to bring the world of design and manufacturing alive. If you have ever had the luck to drive a high-performance car, admired a towering skyscraper, used a SmartPhone, or watched a great film, chances are you have experienced what millions of our customers are doing with our software.

For us the 1980s was all about documentation. 2D drawings were moved from the desk to the computer. In the 2000s, 3D modelling brought simulation and analysis into design, demonstrating how designs will work in reality so they can be optimised before they’re built. But now, we are moving into the era of connectivity, where our cloud-based ecosystem is leading an era of agile development with the access to infinite computational power, connecting people and things. It sounds complicated, but it is happening right now.

In the future, successful business will approach the ideas and practices of design-make-use in a new dynamic way. The process of creation has evolved beyond a simple linear path into integrated cycles of input and feedback.

Today’s dominant technology trends – cloud computing, mobile technology, social connection and collaboration – are driving businesses and consumers alike to explore profoundly different ways to design, make and use things. This kind of industry transformation has happened before, but the pace of change is now much faster. In today’s competitive landscape, anyone can be an innovator and it is all about who innovates first.

Take the Elbow chair for example. It was designed using our generative design tools. Rather than designing and then simulating it, we give the computer key criteria and let it produce hundreds, even thousands of different solutions for us.

In the past, this would have been impossible to manufacture. However, with the emergence of new technologies, we are on the cusp of a new world of design and manufacture. This isn’t just limited to professional companies either. Students are using our tools to design and make a better world.

At our last STEM Learning Design School, our teachers not only went away from our four-day residential course feeling inspired, but more importantly equipped with the knowledge and skills they needed to hit the ground running.

It is wonderful how easy it can be, given a bit of imagination, to bring this whole new design philosophy to life. At the Design School, I explained how with just £30 of kit – mainly some sticky notes, index cards, markers and flipcharts, our students can start to develop the right mind-set and skills. This take-home range of teaching and learning resources can be used in the classroom immediately. Combined with industry standard software that is free to education, teachers will appreciate a toolset, skillset and mind-set approach to design and manufacturing.

Alice Dixon, Designer and entrepreneur

Within a matter of weeks, 23-year-old Alice Dixon was confident with the Fusion software and now having designed a product, is MD of her own company. Later in the year she plans to launch her product via Kickstarter to get it to market.

Alice has designed a modular shelving unit which encourages the customer to “create your shape”. Built up of patent-pending joints, locking rods and panels, the design allows for multiple shapes to be constructed and can thus fit any space.

Alice said her career did make sense looking back. Always jumping at the chance to use new technology and make her projects stand out from the crowd, she became known as the “laser cutter queen” to her friends.

She said: “I could design and make things that weren’t possible before with a new accuracy that meant it would work first time. It gave me a new-found confidence in the subject.”

Despite this, Alice admitted she still struggled to know what I wanted to do. “One minute I wanted to be a biologist, the next a historian, then an artist! Design and technology was something I enjoyed but being honest, I struggled to really see where it could take me at that young age.

“My lightbulb moment came when someone told me being a designer doesn’t mean you have to have the ability to be able to draw like an angel; you just have to have the imagination, ideas and motivation to make them into a 3D form and make it real, you can always pay someone to draw.

“That has really stuck with me and it has made me realise that you don’t have to be good at everything. You just need to be really good at one thing, and for me that was making things.

“It’s so important to expose students to this new technology and show them the potential of it or even better, let them find its potential. Five years ago we didn’t have a 3D printer in school, I didn’t know what one was and now I rely on that technology so much for rapid prototyping. Nothing’s really changed, just the technology and equipment we use.

“CAD software has also become much more prominent in industry and so many rely on it to talk to manufacturers, producing convincing visuals for clients etc. This doesn’t mean that traditional manufacturing techniques are obsolete. The new technology inspires a new type of student to become involved in design, who might not have given it a second chance before.

"For me everyone is creative, whether they believe it or not, they just have to find their way of expressing it. For me it was making, for others it will be drawing, but now we also have CAD which appeals to the mathematicians and engineers. It is just important for teachers to be aware of the new technology so that students have the skills they need to go into industry.”

Design School

At STEM Learning, we tried to replicate the mind-set students will need to design, prototype and manufacture products to teachers. The course explores a range of digital and non-digital tools, including Fusion 360. The next AutoDesk Design School is being planned for 2018/19. If you are interested, email

STEM Learning

STEM Learning runs the National STEM Learning Centre in York and provides professional development, leadership support, resources, bursaries and tools to teachers, technicians and teaching assistants across the country. STEM Learning also manages the national STEM Clubs and the STEM Ambassadors programmes. Visit


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