Two hundred high school industrial arts and vocational education programs will be getting an update in the coming years through a pilot initiative introducing the latest additive manufacturing technologies. The initiative, titled M.Lab21, was developed by 3D Systems and SME (formerly the Society for Mechanical Engineering) as a way of integrating modern manufacturing into secondary education. It is part of a larger effort to rebrand manufacturing altogether and to prepare students to be members of the “next generation workforce.”
The approach is in depth, involving more than the simple drop off of a 3D printer or some other piece of equipment with a hope that students will be interested. Instead, M.Lab21 provides ‘starter kits’ that include things such as:
- The Sense 3D scanner
- Advanced prosumer desktop printing capabilities with the CubePro
- The Cubify design software suite
- The Touch 3D haptic mouse.
In addition, an online network has been created to provide a way for students, educators, and employers to stay connected about lesson plans and skills requirements.
At the RAPID conference in Detroit, Michigan where the initiative was announced, the US Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker discussed this initiative as an important step in both interesting students in the possibilities of modern manufacturing and in preparing them to meet the needs of the industry. At the keynote introducing M.Lab21, Pritzker stated:
“This new initiative is exactly the type of program that will help prepare students to compete…Too many young people still do not understand that a career in manufacturing can be a challenging, rewarding, and noble way to earn a good living.”
Avi Reichental, President and CEO of 3D Systems issued an invitation to join the M.Lab21 initiative as they work in conjunction with SME on “revolutionizing tech and vocational education by giving students access to an innovative and integrated set of 21st century tools and technology.” This program goes beyond entry level training and strives to instill in students a set of skills combined with in depth knowledge. It is hoped that investment in this type of future member of the workforce will help strengthen the United States’ presence on the manufacturing stage. As Pritzker noted, there is more at stake here than just the excitement of working with the newest “toys”:
“We have a window of opportunity-right now – to prove to the world that the 21st century will be another ‘Made-in-America’ century.”
Is this the future of education in America? Will these technologies give the American education system what it needs to compete on a global scale? Let us know your opinion at the M.Lab21 forum thread on 3DPB.com.
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