Turning Students into Inquisitive Creators through 3D Printing
3D Printing Case – Education
Manufacturing, which has largely moved overseas due to cheaper labour costs, is making a comeback in the United States, according to the New York Times, Boston Consulting Group and the International Business Times.
The reason for this resurgence is because higher education has been helping students learn design and prototyping work.
The NMC Horizon Report > 2014 Higher Education Edition reports that this movement on university campuses enables students across disciplines to learn “by making and creating rather than from the simple consumption of content.”
Hands-on learning has become “an integral part of the curriculum.” The NMC Horizon report adds, “Academic makerspaces and fabrication labs have popped up on university campuses in a variety of places.” This has gained popularity and traction because students can access the various software and hardware tools and techniques to design and build right in their schools.
The National Science Foundation is funding research about 3D printing, also called additive manufacturing, to understand “the educational benefits of makerspaces and the transferability of that type of learning to math and science skill improvement.”
This kind of education, stimulated by a hands-on mentality and manifested in places like Stanford with its d.school and Olin College with its reboot of engineering instruction, is the best recipe this country has for turning students into innovators, according to Tony Wagner. Wagner, the author of “Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World,” says innovative thinkers and designers are what’s needed to enable the country to become the kind “that produces more ideas to solve more different kinds of problems.”
Not surprisingly, as manufacturing, making and innovation converge in education, 3D printing is becoming more crucial to curriculums. As the following examples demonstrate, giving students access to 3D printers turns them into thinkers, designers and builders — the kinds of disciplines that form the heart of higher education in the 21st century.
When Design and Manufacturing Merge
Traditionally, design and manufacturing have been separate disciplines. The designer would generate computer-aided design (CAD) models to pass off to the manufacturer, who would run a check on the design and kick it back to the designer for rework should the material properties of the object prove unworkable. The time-consuming nature of this process set up hurdles to realizing new ideas quickly.
Those days are disappearing. Now designers are expected to be able to frame problems and model them. The change has come about thanks to the use of 3D printing. In this process, a 3D CAD model is designed; an STL file is generated and put through “slicing” software that communicates with the printer about how to construct the object; and, finally, the part is constructed layer by layer, starting from the bottom and working up. Applications from 3D printing, ranging from prototyping and end-use parts to the medical, automotive and commercial industries, are still being explored.
The Nature of Creation is Changing
Virginia Tech is a leader in using 3D printing to advance the breadth of student knowledge and help educators and the industry to rethink product design and manufacturing.
The power of 3D printing, says Chris Williams, a member of the faculty in Virginia Tech’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and Department of Engineering Education, is that, “If you can draw it, we can print it.”
Engineers gain design freedom because they can access every part of a printed piece during the build process, not just the exterior faces. They can create functional parts without the need for assembly. Likewise, 3D printing allows the building of geometrics that couldn’t be fabricated in any other way. Along the way, those capabilities reduce waste, minimize the use of harmful chemicals traditionally used for etching and cleaning, and offer the possibility for using recyclable materials.
Williams leads the Design, Research, and Education for Additive Manufacturing Systems (DREAMS) Lab at the university. At last count, the lab contained nearly a dozen different kinds of 3D printers, including an Objet 350 Connex 3D Printer.
Now researchers at Virginia Tech are exploring the use of the Objet350 Connex 3D Printer to lay down “quantum dots” for use in cryptography, optical sensing and programmable matter applications.
Ideal Learning tool for Design and Prototyping
Beyond use in institutional research, 3D printing is well suited to student projects since it enables learners to prototype ideas and bring their projects to life quickly and repeat the process until the results are what they want.
For example, in a second-year mechanical engineering course at Virginia Tech, students had an idea to create a Swiss army knife-like device to hold their keys. They created a “beautiful” CAD model, Williams recalls, with a lot of modularity built into the design and quickly moved to the printing of the object. It was only after they could try it out in real life that they discovered their mistake: It didn’t fit well in a pocket; it was too bulky. “It wasn’t until they held it in their hands that they realized they needed to redesign it,” says Williams.
In a more sophisticated application, students and faculty created and tested a mini wind turbine the size of a soda can and capable of charging small electronic devices and powering remote sensor networks. “Before we had additive manufacturing, there was no way to make that product a reality,” Williams says.
Real-world experience Students at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA, have learned how to enhance the design process in the transportation industry. Every major automobile design organization in the world has come to the Center to meet with students and sponsor projects, says faculty member David Cawley.
Besides teaching courses in 3D printing techniques, Cawley runs the rapid prototyping and model shops. This is where students bring their designs to create the 3D models for their projects. The shops have multiple printers from several vendors, each of which excels in specific ways. For example, the budget-oriented uPrint® SE Plus™ 3D Printer comes in useful for the production of remote-controlled cars, which need to stand up to rigorous testing at high speeds. When the project requires extremely high resolution, intensely smooth surfaces, thin walls or tiny parts, students are directed to the Objet30 Pro 3D Printer, a small footprint printer that can print in extraordinary detail in up to seven different materials, including high-temperature photopolymers.