Additive manufacturing or Three-dimensional (3D) printing is an evolving field for many professionals, including those associated with the field of education. 3D printing involves the creation of a 3D object from a digital 3D model or a CAD model. 3D printers are used in several professions, hobbyists, and homes, and they're gaining popularity in schools and other academic settings. 3D printers do not print using ink, but they fabricate objects with some materials such as rubber, metal, and plastic.
The recent increase in interest in the positive impact of 3D printing in the classrooms and low prices of 3D printers have increased 3D printer adoption as a piece of academic equipment in primary, secondary, and high school settings. Many schools are hiring experts in 3D printing to train their educators about the concepts and application of 3D printing in their primary, secondary and high schools setting.
Before we dig further into the benefit of 3D printing in the classroom, we need to explain the simple process of how 3D printing works so that a complete beginner could get the idea too.
3D printing begins with a digital model in a three-dimensional Computer-Aided Design (CAD) file, CAD files could be downloaded for free from online libraries such as Thingiverse and others, or you could obtain it from scanning a physical object with a 3D scanner, or you could design a model from scratch with one of the 3D modeling software such as fusion 360.
Then you submit the CAD file to a slicer; the slicer modifies the model into a sequence of fine two-dimensional layers and creates a file through instructions (G-code) to suit the particular type of 3D printer.
The type of 3D printer most often found in classrooms is called an FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) machine, such as the MakerBot Sketch and more.
The 3D printer uses the desired amounts of raw material (rubber, metal, and plastic) and then create an object by incorporating a 2D layer over a 2D layer, a single layer at a time until it is entirely made and finished as per the design criteria from the actual CAD file.
“I believe that 3D printing is a valuable problem-solving tool and key competency for the future workforce. It was important to integrate this technology into our courses to give students a chance to use equipment that is currently being used within design and manufacturing companies today,” said Prof. Dr. Florian Finsterwalder that teaches the Additive Design and Manufacturing courses in Hochschule Karlsruhe, University of Applied Sciences (HsKA).
Students in HsKA learn the foundations of generative design and additive manufacturing on both a theoretical and physical level. The lessons teach students how to conceptualize, design, and transform ideas into tangible objects they can physically manipulate. Students also dive into the different materials, processes, technologies, and sustainability practices across the additive manufacturing spectrum. Students learn more than just prototyping; they are taught about the industrialization of the entire additive manufacturing chain.
Here is another quote from Prof. Dr. Finsterwalder.
“I absolutely believe that 3D printing is increasing creativity and professional development. In the past, the opportunities for realizing prototypes were rather limited due to either time or cost, or both. Today, 3D printing offers us an opportunity to realize parts and prototypes quickly. The iteration and the process of developing these objects no longer stay at a theoretical level. Students face challenges and difficulties directly and use 3D printing as a problem-solving technique to realize or produce parts, products, or carry out projects,”
But the benefits are not limited to manufacturing courses; they're a benefit for the average student, even in the younger grades.
3D printing technologies facilitate improved learning, skills development, and increased student and teacher engagement with the subject matter in education. Furthermore, 3D printing sparks greater creativity and collaboration in solving problems.
And it is simply a fun topic that students around the world are going crazy about, reflecting on their pass rate. It promotes students' achievements and prepares them for a college education; they develop the confidence to pursue challenging courses such as STEAM.
Math, Engineering, architecture, biology and chemistry, and many other fields of study make use of 3D printers. Nevertheless, the actual benefits lie in the development of creativity and imagination in the students.
Here is a partial list of some of the benefits.
- Exciting for the Students -3D printing is exciting for the students because they get a chance to experience their tasks, right from the conceptual stage until the project's actual building. This process is not just exciting for the students, but it also creates a better understanding due to gaining hands-on experience from imagination to creation. The layer-by-layer creation of the model allows students to see individual features of the model more closely and more clearly. Students get a chance to explore details of an object in reality, not from a textbook or the screen. It transforms the theoretical experience into the real-world experience and allows students to view and touch, opening new opportunities for activities and learning.
- Builds Problem-Solving Skills - Students must learn working and operation of different types of 3D printers and solve problems and troubleshoot. By learning how to resolve 3D printer problems and troubleshoot, students learn endurance and persistence in dealing with difficulties. This experience also helps students to solve other problems in real life.
- Providing Access to Previously Inaccessible Knowledge - Since a majority of the 3D printers are plug-and-play and pre-assembled, they offer a fun-filled experience for students. Students realize that it is not a big problem to fail on the first attempt, and they try another time for improvement. As students start to understand that failure is a component of this process, they become more confident to execute new things in life. Educators enjoy the outcome as well as having self-confident and self-motivated students.
- Complements the Course Content - Irrespective of the type of curriculum used, 3D printing helps teachers and students work better. 3D printing prevents students from passive learning of information. Unlike traditional classrooms, in which learners can quickly get bored, 3D printing makes learning more enjoyable. Students become engaged and active learners through designing, conception, execution, and interaction with the teacher and 3D printer.
- Enhance creativity - 3D printing improves students' creative skills, which they can use later in their professional life. It prepares students for college education and promotes their academic achievements. Students get the confidence to select challenging fields of education as the ones in STEAM fields. As students grow and advance their imaginations, it leads them towards innovation, where they build their 3D projects. Individual 3D projects give the confidence to train others and to solve problems.
- Opens New Doors of Learning - Students get unlimited opportunities for learning due to an affordable 3D printer. 3D printing enables learners to experiment with conception, growing, and expanding their creativity. Visualization helps young learners to learn new concepts more quickly. A visual environment of learning enhances students' realization of the world, allowing them to see and touch their projects. 3D printers give young learners new opportunities and enable them to learn further information efficiently and economically.
Below are only a few examples to show how institutions and learners can use a 3D printer in the classroom setting:
- Students of History can examine historical artifacts through print out,
- Students of Graphic Design can give a 3D version to their artwork,
- Math students solve their problems using 3D models,
- Students of Biology can print out biological artifacts such as organs, viruses, and cells,
- Students of Chemistry can get 3D models of molecules through print out,
- Students of Geography can print out a population, demographic or topographic maps.
Here you could read the MakerBot educators guidebook (third edition) where you could find a ton of information on the subject, especially if you use one of their printers.