Turning students into inquisitive creators

How 3D printing transforms real-world design and production challenges into learning

By Stratasys, Inc.

Manufacturing is making a comeback in the United States, according to the New York Times, Boston Consulting Group and the International Business Times. If that’s true, it’s partly because higher education has been helping students learn design and prototyping work. The NMC Horizon Report > 2014 Higher Education Edition reports that this movement on university campuses enables students across disciplines to learn “by making and creating rather than from the simple consumption of content.” Hands-on learning has become “an integral part of the curriculum.” The NMC Horizon report adds, “Academic makerspaces and fabrication labs have popped up on university campuses in a variety of places.”

The National Science Foundation is funding research about 3D printing, also called additive manufacturing, to understand “the educational benefits of makerspaces and the transferability of that type of learning to math and science skill improvement.” This kind of education, stimulated by a hands-on mentality and manifested in places like Stanford with its d.school and Olin College with its reboot of engineering instruction, is the best recipe this country has for turning students into innovators, according to Tony Wagner.

Wagner, the author of “Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World,” says innovative thinkers and designers are what’s needed to enable the country to become the kind “that produces more ideas to solve more different kinds of problems.” Not surprisingly, as manufacturing, making and innovation converge in education, 3D printing is becoming more crucial to curriculums. As the following examples demonstrate, giving students access to 3D printers turns them into thinkers, designers and builders — the kinds of disciplines that form the heart of higher education in the 21st century.

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Traditionally, design and manufacturing have been separate disciplines. The designer would generate computer-aided design (CAD) models to pass off to the manufacturer, who would run a check on the design and kick it back to the designer for rework should the material properties of the object prove unworkable. The time-consuming nature of this process set up hurdles to realizing new ideas quickly.

Those days are disappearing. Now designers are expected to be able to frame problems and model them. The change has come about thanks to the use of 3D printing. In this process, a 3D CAD model is designed; an STL file is generated and put through “slicing” software that communicates with the printer about how to construct the object; and, finally, the part is constructed layer by layer, starting from the bottom and working up. Applications from 3D printing, ranging from prototyping and end-use parts to the medical, automotive and commercial industries, are still being explored. 

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W: www.stratasys.com

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