As the 3D printing industry continues to advance, certain themes are arising that inform the roadmap ahead. Education represents one of the most significant keys to the future of additive manufacturing, both for the next generation of innovators currently in their formal schooling years and for adults, either as working professionals who would benefit from bringing 3D printing into their existing workflows to utilize the best tools available to their businesses or as those looking to improve their career prospects.
Noted by industry experts and students alike, the need for education in 3D printing is only growing as the technology advances. Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics collectively make up what is commonly known as the STEAM curriculum, representing primary areas of focus in many schools around the world. STEAM curricula offer students the opportunity to work with cutting-edge subject areas that will make up a large percentage of future career paths, giving STEAM students a leg up in a competitive jobs landscape. On the professional front, educational initiatives targeting existing businesses allow for new technologies to bring advantageous methodologies to design and manufacturing; engineers learning to use optimized design parameters and apply the unique geometries possible through additive manufacturing can leverage the benefits for which the technology is becoming increasingly well known. Savings in costs and development time, as well as parametric design, lightweighting of parts, and reduction of components are among the advantages possible through 3D printing, but only those professionals instructed in the appropriate design and technologies will be fully equipped to benefit. Furthermore, adult learners coming for the first time to 3D printing can gain entirely new skill sets that can help them to rise out of poverty and difficult life circumstances as they find empowerment through the autonomy made possible via local production.
The common thread for grade school students and working engineers alike comes back to one key force driving adoption: education. Specifically, educators. School teachers, university professors, and training professionals who share their knowledge are necessary for rising adoption rates in additive manufacturing. From elementary classroom projects to extensive on-campus facilities allowing student access to real-world additive manufacturing capabilities, the reach of educational additive manufacturing is growing.
In schools, 3D printing can offer valuable lessons to students that go beyond the technology itself; important life skills such as the creative and iterative process teach students that failure can be an important tool, while design can instill patience, and comfort with increasingly ubiquitous CAD programs. While getting into 3D printing can seem a daunting endeavor for those new to the technology, easing into it with an experienced and confident teacher can help with growing pains. Good educators are vital to the learning and adoption process for any new technology, and 3D printing is finding value in a variety of teachers who come to the tech from a variety of backgrounds. As more schools embrace 3D printing through educational resources, in-classroom 3D printers, and on-campus 3D printing centers, students stand to benefit for life.
The importance of 3D printing in education has come to the fore for many industry efforts to bring 3D printers to educational settings, such as through global giant GE’s donations of millions of dollars worth of additive manufacturing equipment to schools, Dremel’s contest to provide 3D printers for classroom use, and more, including donations from Staples and a match program for donations of 3Doodler 3D printing pens. In addition to equipment donations, the industry is working to enhance access to and awareness of resources, such as MakerBot’s Grant Resource Guide and strategic focus on the educational market, and through industry efforts like celebrity partnerships, such as with actor Wesley Snipes, to encourage technology adoption.
For adults learning to work with 3D printing technologies, continuous education is an important consideration. This will play a role in Industry 4.0, as Belgium’s Minister Alexander De Croo recently discussed. Industry 4.0 represents the future, and several nations around the world are focusing initiatives on enhancing professional education to keep at the forefront of adoption and integration of cutting-edge technologies including additive manufacturing. Industrial companies including EOS have turned a big focus on the importance of educating their customers on all resources available to them in order to utilize resources to their best advantage, while an increasing amount of initiatives seek to teach design for additive manufacturing — including courses available for all here at 3DPrint.com. In addition to industrial adoption, many adults globally are turning for the first time to 3D printing in order to better their own lives through entrepreneurship or by up-skilling to add advanced technologies to their résumés.
While there are many considerations to be made in adopting 3D printing in education, and classroom access remains at least somewhat limited, students exposed to the technology frequently note how worthwhile the experience is for them. It is with this in mind that we look forward to further highlighting the work being done in education through a new feature series putting the Spotlight on Educators in 3D Printing.
In the spring, we inaugurated our Spotlight feature series bringing you first-hand glimpses into experiences spanning a broad range of activities in the 3D printing world. Our first Spotlight focus put women in the limelight, as the ongoing series shows the myriad contributions women bring to 3D printing and how important it is to have their voices be heard. Through talking with YouTubers, artists, C-level executives, legal professionals, technicians, and more, we have gained an inside perspective into multiple areas of expertise and experience as these driven individuals have shared their stories. Now, we will be highlighting the work done across a variety of educational channels as those working to enhance understanding of and access to technology represent the hope of the future of 3D printing.
We look forward to sharing the stories of educators around the world through this incarnation of our Spotlight features. Share your thoughts in the Spotlight on Educators forum at 3DPB.com.
If you are interested in sharing your story, or know an educator we should get in touch with, please reach out any time. Send me an email or connect on Twitter. We’re looking forward to sharing your stories. Find all the features in this series here.