Early adopters in the 3D printing industry were often faced with a number of obstacles that made it difficult to sell their machines. There was (and still is) a general lack of education among schools and the existing workforce. Schools that purchased 3D printers early on quickly learned the frustration of getting parts to stick to build plates, clogs happened frequently, and if the printer was working, there wasn’t enough time during class to print parts for everybody. Without proper education and training, many 3D printers ended up collecting dust in the back of classrooms. According to the Wohlers Report 2017, sales of desktop 3D printers grew from 1,816 in 2009 to 86,853 in 2013, but it was a during period when 3D printing curricula and workforce training rarely existed.
These were well known challenges for Kim Brand, a technology and engineering enthusiast who in 2013 co-founded an industrial firm called 3D Parts Manufacturing. In an interview with the Indianapolis Business Journal, Brand talks about how he went through a series of unsuccessful attempts at selling desktop 3D printers before launching a 3D printing summer camp for students from 2014 to 2016. Although the camps were semi-successful, they weren’t profitable enough to keep them going.
IBJ: “How’d you get involved in 3D printing for kids?”
BRAND: “It was a mistake. We had an impulsive, wealthy business partner who was smitten by a design that we could acquire for free to build our own 3D printers. And before I knew it, we had 300 of them. And not knowing what else to do with them, we started summer camps. And the kids went nuts.
It was our ambition to acquire and sell 3D printers—which didn’t work out. But it gave us hundreds of them. And it seemed reasonable to put them in schools and run summer camps.”
Brand has since taken a backseat role with 3D Parts Manufacturing and has pivoted his focus toward makerspaces – a place where technology enthusiasts can gather to make things using a wide range of desktop fabrication tools. At 64 years old, he’s now the president of 1st Maker Space, and throughout the interview with IBJ, talks about the importance of bringing skills developed in makerspaces back into the classroom.
BRAND: “That we have turned education into test-taking. That if a kid is so focused on answering your questions, they’re not thinking about answering his or her own questions.
I think the model of the future will be less teaching and more creative learning. You ask kids what are the capitals of the states. I mean seriously? Who [expletive] cares. They know how to get that answer on their phones. But if you can get kids to dream up questions. If you can get kids to learn. And that’s the difference. Are we going to pay adults to be teachers or are we going to pay adults to be learning coaches? Adults drive kids into their inquiry-driven learning. I believe that a makerspace is a part of that.
We learned that kids want to make stuff, whether they make it with a 3D printer or not. And that’s what a maker space is about.”
I agree with Brand’s point that our education system is doing students a disservice by converting creative and conceptual learning into a process of short-term memorization for the sake of doing well on standardized tests. I get it – schools with high test scores receive better rankings, attract families to the community, and ultimately send more students to college. But are we truly preparing young students for the real world? Is every student really cut out for college? The short answer is, no. We’ve been taught in order to succeed in life, you must score well on a series of tests, get accepted into a good university, work your way up in a big company, retire, and die happy. Creative thinking is thrown out the door the minute “standardized test prep week” rolls around in elementary school.
IBJ: “What would you recommend legislators do?”
BRAND: “I’d recommend that every school mandate that every school employ hands-on learning. That every school would put back shop class, would put back home economics. Employers don’t care if you know the quadratic equation. They want you to have basic math skills. And then they want you to have collaboration skills, communication skills. They call them soft skills, but these are hard skills.”
Brand makes some great points about bringing back classes that offer hands-on learning and real world experience. One of the major disappointments during my childhood education occurred in 6th grade when it was announced that shop class would no longer be offered in middle school and high school. I remember my three older brothers coming home in their respective years with wood pallet artwork and handmade furniture – and I couldn’t wait to experience it for myself. There I was at 12 years old, hoarding duct tape and cardboard and populating my bedroom with random creations, being told that my dream of making things at a higher level might not come true. I ended up going through the motions of the education system and started college in 2010.
Fast forward to 2012 when there was a lot of buzz around 3D printing. I thought it was the coolest thing ever and eventually purchased a FlashForge Creator X. As a business student with no design experience, I had no idea what I was doing, but the fact I was making things again sparked new life in me (even though my “creations” mostly involved 3D printing bottle openers and elephants from files on Thingiverse).
In 2014, I started my career at a non-profit business incubator centered around growing technology and 3D printing-based startups. We led a number of 3D printing education initiatives throughout our region and I was put in charge of hosting a 3D printing summer camp for high school students. It was a five-day camp with an entrepreneurial twist. Students learned about the basics of 3D printing, how to use 3D design software, different applications through case studies, and then came up with their own products and made a simple business plan of how they’d sell it.
The camp turned out to be successful and the 15 students who participated genuinely had fun and learned a lot. The goal wasn’t to profit from the camp like Brand, but we encountered similar problems. A few 3D printers would malfunction, there wasn’t enough time for everyone to print their prototypes, and they were missing out on developing other STEAM-related skills, as Brand points out:
IBJ: “Now you’re focused on maker spaces. What’s the difference?”
BRAND: “3D printing labs were all about 3D design and 3D printing. It was narrowly focused—designing 3D parts using software, applying that design to the 3D printer, discovering what went wrong and fixing it. And, at the end of the day, go home with some 3D printed stuff.”
3D printing is an invaluable tool that teaches student about design freedom, product development, and entrepreneurship by identifying everyday problems and coming up with unique solutions. However, it’s not the be-all and end-all solution for manufacturing. This is why makerspaces are so important. Not only do makerspaces encourage students to use their creativity, they allow them to learn additional skills such as circuitry, coding, problem solving, and how to work in teams – and they provide direct access to other fabrication tools like CNC, laser cutting, woodworking, and metalworking. All the learned skills found in makerspaces carry over to the students’ future careers. Companies are only able to adopt technologies like 3D printing when the workforce has been properly trained to design and solve problems based around those technologies.
According to AcceleratingBiz, the United States has almost 700 makerspaces across the country, with 437 currently active, 169 planned, 90 in construction, and 3 in reconstruction. Key drivers include a rising maker movement, increasing preference for accessing equipment over owning it, growing demand to collaborate with other professionals with similar interests, and heightening focus on active learning.
Unfortunately, many schools either lack the funds to incorporate makerspaces into their curriculum or, as Brand alludes to, are unable to break away from the status quo where every student needs to learn a predetermined set of creative-suppressing skills.
IBJ: “What has all of this shown you?”
BRAND: “There’s no doubt in my mind that we are wasting the creativity and problem-solving capacity of children in school. These kids want to be creative. They want to be problem solvers. But the current curriculum puts a ceiling on that. It’s focused on a very narrow set of skills that schools want to teach.
If you put them in a maker space, they explode. They make stuff, they create stuff. They are engaged. They don’t want to go home. They can’t wait to get there. We need to adopt making as a strategy.”
The rise of makerspaces is helping to bring people back to their roots. We’ve gone from the pre-industrial revolution where individuals made their own things or bought locally from craftsmen, to the industrial revolution where everything was mass produced and standardized, to the post-industrial revolution where we’re making our own stuff again and encouraging consumers to buy local.
Educators at all levels have recognized the importance of incorporating advanced technologies into their classrooms, and they’re figuring out ways to get more involved by collaborating with non-profit organizations and companies like 1st Maker Space. This is the first step to prepare students for a world no longer limited by traditional manufacturing processes.
Discuss this case study and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts in the Facebook comments below.[Source: IBJ / Images: 1st Maker Space]