In the early hours of an extraordinary Saturday morning, a twirling sound could be heard emanating from a laboratory deep in the bowels of MIT.
Cautiously, a human hand sprang forward into the light and the object producing the twirling noise, lands adroitly on an outstretched palm. And on closer inspection, the lens of a human eye reveals the World’s first Robot Bee, created from the juxtaposition of 3D printed parts and the principles of robotics.
The ground breaking event at MIT has since been followed by even more extraordinary ones involving the use of 3D Printing in engineering, architecture, medicine and even fashion.
What is 3D Printing?
3D Printing in the simplest form is the process of making a physical object from a 3 dimensional digital model using a 3D printer. This revolutionary way of producing both domestic and commercial items has quickly been integrated into today’s society due to the emergence of professional and consumer 3D printers such as the MakerBot Replicators. So how do 3D printers function?
How a 3D Printer Works
It is important to know that although all 3D printers are used for making 3D objects, not all 3D printers work using the same technology. And for educational purposes, outlined below are the four major processes most 3D printers’ works with.
Stereolithography (SLA): is an additive manufacturing process which works by focusing an ultraviolet (UV) laser on to a vat of photopolymer resins that are photosensitive under UV rays. The UV rays then solidifies the resins to form the shape of your digital 3D model.
Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM): the FDM technique works by laying down molten material in layers according to the design on your STL file. During FDM, molten feed is extruded from the printer’s nozzle in layers which are then fused together to form the pre-defined 3D object.
Digital Light Processing (DLP): the DLP technique is quite similar to SLA for it makes use of rapid prototyping to cure photosensitive polymer resins (plastic, ceramic, metal etc.). Despite the similarities, DLP makes use of projector light rather than laser to cure its material feed.
Selective Laser Sintering (SLS): involves the use of a high powered lasers (for example, a carbon dioxide laser) to fuse small particles of plastic, metal, ceramic, or glass powders into the desired three-dimensional shape.
3D Printing in Education
To understand and appreciate the abilities of 3D printing as an educative process, it is important to categorize its use into three categories which are; it’s use in corporate training, its use in formal education and its use as an informal educational tool.
3D Printing in Corporate Trainings: Business enterprises that understand the need for personal development of its personnel as well as the importance of building good interpersonal relationships among its staff can borrow a leaf from General Electric’s (GE) example. In the GE Headquarters, 3D printers had been used as a tool to teach components assembling, 3D modelling and domestic manufacturing to its staff. The success of this program led to GE developing plans to open a factory solely for additive manufacturing in Alabama.
These exercises were conducted as a means of introducing employees to new hobbies as well as encouraging collaboration by ensuring colleagues work on 3D printing projects as a group. On the other hand, the additive manufacturing techniques learnt by employees will serve them in good stead if the need to earn an additional income through additive manufacturing ever comes up in the future.
3D Printing in Formal Education: 3D printing is quickly becoming a part of the architectural and engineering processes used in manufacturing mechanical components and the construction of building structures. Therefore it should come as no surprise to learn that additive manufacturing techniques are now been taught in higher institutions as a way of building objects.
The Singaporean government has set the pace of integrating 3D printing in Singapore’s manufacturing industries by ensuring that additive manufacturing is included as one of the professional courses that should be taught in its engineering institutes. This integration has already yielded some results as students in these institutions have succeeded in developing 3D printed parts and objects for commercial consumption.
3D Printing in Informal Education: in informal settings, 3D printers such as the Makerbot Replicator Compact Mini, has been used in teaching both adults and kids the intricacies of manufacturing and how a 3D printer can be used as a tool for creating household items. Unlike most 3D printers for beginners, the Makerbot Replicator Mini is already assembled on purchase, produces minimal heat when in operation, and includes a monitoring device—an interior camera—which makes it an appropriate tool for teaching additive manufacturing to kids.
A perfect example of the educative abilities of 3D printing in an informal setting is the story of Andy—a nine year old boy with a missing limb—who was enrolled in a 3D printing camp where he learned the basics of 3D printing. With the knowledge he had gained, Andy proceeded to build his own 3D printed prosthetic arm which currently allows him play and eat comfortably with both hands.
Applying 3D Printing in STEM Education: the need to teach science, technology, engineering and math has become more pressing in the 21st century. This in part due to the expansion of the human population which creates the need for technological advances and a green approach to life in order to sustain the earth’s ecosystem. Understanding the importance of STEM education, President Obama initiated the ‘Educate to Innovate’ campaign which centred on pursuing excellence in STEM education.
The manufacturing process involved in 3D printing is a great way for teachers to teach students about the importance of science, engineering, and technology as well as real-life application of additive manufacturing in creating innovative mechanisms. Recognising this opportunity, MakerBot in partnership with the University of Maryland built an innovation centre which focuses solely on using 3D printers such as the powerful MakerBot Replicator 5th Generation 3D printers to teach STEM students about innovation and invention.
Asia has also not been left out. MakerBot in partnership with the Hong Kong Polytechnic has built the first 3D printing innovation centre in Asia and as expected, multiple 3D printers—the MakerBot Replicator 5th Gen and the Replicator 2X—will feature as tools for advancing innovation in STEM.
The creation of the STEM INC program—a result of a collaboration between the Singapore Science Centre and the Ministry of Education is a step in the right direction. And as the program progresses, we believe that integrating 3D printing procedures in educational institutions will be the quickest way to get students innovating real-live solutions to meet the world’s challenges in record time.
The 3D revolution is here to stay and we should be aware of the importance of additive manufacturing to the professional fields of architecture, medicine, engineering, dentistry and most importantly, how we incorporate 3D Printing into educating our children to get them ready for innovations in these fields.
To find out more about how you too can incorporate 3D Printing into your school and curriculum please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org