AM Training: Why Active & Team-based Learning is a Must!


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Additive Manufacturing (AM) creates a new world of manufacturing opportunities, and people are the driving force for adoption. With a myriad of different types of face to face AM events available (e.g. conferences, seminars, training), these questions are very relevant as industry seeks the knowledge to advance AM adoption:

  • What event(s) should I attend to gain the knowledge I need to adopt AM?
  • How important is the training format for retaining and applying knowledge?

What Ticks the AM Training Box?

A solid training event requires a knowledge assessment at the conclusion; therefore, seminars and conferences do not tick the box. They have a place for knowledge sharing and networking, but it is important to make the distinction between those and true AM training. A solid AM training program will include:

  • Experience – Instructors with AM experience
  • Consistency – Ownership of content
  • Value – Deliver ROI
  • Content – Agnostic and unbiased
  • Pedagogy – Learner focused
  • Assessment – Show it and prove it

The TBGA Learning Approach

For our face-to-face Activate AM workshops, TBGA utilizes a combination of instruction, case studies, questions, guided idea generation and a spirited team competition to reinforce and apply key concepts. We apply multiple active learning concepts. This is done, because true learning and skills development requires not only knowledge acquisition (as in a seminar) but also knowledge application.

AM is a Team Sport

To successfully adopt an AM application, many disciplines are required to interact simultaneously. A representation of the typical disciplines required to achieve success for laser powder bed AM is represented below. If successful, implementation requires a team approach, then it follows that a team-based approach to AM learning is optimal.

Team-based Learning

The team competition, the TBGA Team Design Assessment, is an active learning tool that requires the learners to apply the course principles to a real application and collaborate and discuss it in a small group. The competition consists of a series of guided questions to develop the AM concept, along with a rating system designed to evaluate the solution holistically including categories like AM Technology, Materials, Design, Business Case, Supply Chain, Quality and Safety which follows a schema that we call the TBGA AM Maturity Model. It serves a dual role as it drives active learning and is the final knowledge assessment for the course.

“The team-based assessment is amazing to watch as the projects take on a life of their own. Over the course of the workshop, inspiration visibly spreads amongst groups as they develop their ideas for AM applications that are totally original.” – Chelsea Cummings, TBGA Instructor

To effectively execute the team-based learning activity, we break the course participants into smaller groups comprised of a variety of skill, responsibility and knowledge of the problem to be solved. Our experience has been that small teams of 3-5 learners outperform groups with 2 or fewer participants in generating creative solutions. It turns out, we’re not alone. Figure 1: Team engaging during TBGA ACTIVATE AM session in Pittsburgh in February 2020.

We are Not Alone

In last year’s Solid Freeform Fabrication conference, a group from Penn State presented a statistical comparison of solutions to engineering problems before and after a ½ day additive workshop given in conjunction with 1.5 hours of guided idea generation. The study participants were heavily mechanical design-focused, with an average of nearly 15 years of experience in legacy design, but comparatively limited experience with AM (< 2 years).

After the workshop, the solutions identified were rated by an expert panel and compared to conventional designs produced through normal business practices. In the score categories of Quality, Novelty and Usefulness, the AM solutions were superior to the conventional solutions at 95% confidence interval. This means that a short AM workshop was shown to have the potential to improve quality and novelty of solutions which can be extremely beneficial to a company needing a product breakthrough in a competitive market or to establish unique intellectual property.

Added Value

This team applied learning competition not only fosters deeper knowledge but develops several AM applications through to a business case by the end of the training. For the training sessions delivered for a single company, the teams can develop AM solutions for actual company applications. Last year TBGA workshop attendees found more than $3M in AM savings and product opportunities in their businesses.

“It [TBGA Activate AM] does a really good job of compressing a lot of information over the 3-day course. The knowledge of the processes I have comes from two years of attending conferences, so if I’d done this right at the start – DONE – I would have enough information to start scouting out applications.” AM Workshop Customer, Material & Process Development Company, Feb 2020

Active team-based learning drives more creative and novel solutions to achieve ROI. It also fosters a collaborative approach to problem-solving in the real world, which is required when applying those newfound skills for the team sport of AM.

Dr. Kirk Rogers & Chelsea Cummings of the Barnes Group Advisors.

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