As the 3D printing industry continues to grow, so will its user base.  Just like in any other industry with consumer applications, 3D printing can be used for good or for… well, less good.

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3D Printing can be valuable in classroom situations

As many schools around the country have shown recently, 3D printers have amazing potential for students and teachers alike.  The learning applications are almost endless, and students as young as  elementary age are gaining access to cutting-edge technologies that will keep them at the forefront of their age group.  As with any technology in use around students, careful monitoring of both technical operation and the ultimate applications (and objects printed) is always necessary…

Sometimes, though, it’s the adults who can’t resist temptation.

Tuckers Crossroads School has its own 3D printer, which a teacher at the school won at a conference earlier in the school year.  The school, in the Wilson County School District in Tennessee, had to let one of its employees go this week due to misuse of school property.

Sometime in the last month, computer technician Michael Hughes — who had been with Wilson County Schools for about six years — used the school’s 3D printer to create an inoperable part of a paintball gun.Michael Hughes

It fell to Deputy Director of Schools Mickey Hall to discipline Hughes.  The two met on the afternoon of Friday, October 10, to discuss the incident; Hughes received a letter of termination on Monday, following the meeting.  Hall had been informed of the incident by Hughes’ supervisor, who had received information from within the department. The Friday meeting was a follow-up to the completed incident investigation.

“It was an unfortunate situation and an unfortunate lapse in judgment we had to deal with,” Hall said. “We took appropriate action under the circumstances.”

Using school property to create parts, whether operable or not, for a weapon — even a paintball gun, which typically is used for innocent sport and recreation — demonstrated ethics not in keeping with the school district’s zero-tolerance policy.

“We just can’t tolerate that type of behavior based on what the equipment was used for.”

Hughes’ dismissal signals a key moment in the widening consumer availability of 3D printing.  While news of 3D printed guns continues to emerge, this is one of the earliest incidents relating directly to a school.  Zero-tolerance policies aren’t new, but their umbrella will continue to stretch out as lists of contraband items expand to encompass items that can be created on 3D printers.

A paintball gun with 3D printed components - Images: http://freshprints3d.com/

A paintball gun with 3D printed components – Image: http://freshprints3d.com/

These policies are not without their controversy, however; while most people will agree that keeping weapons out of schools is a no brainer, the definition of what constitutes a weapon may be more open to interpretation.  A small sample of responses to Hughes’ termination gathered from the Facebook page of the local news site that reported it, illustrates that many community members think the printing of an inoperable component of a paintball gun was not sufficient cause for dismissal.  Let’s hear your thoughts on this story.  Should Michael Hughes have been terminated?  Discuss in the ‘Tech Fired for Misuse” forum thread on 3DPB.com.

[Images: http://freshprints3d.com/]
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