Hardware

The Influence Of Education On The 3D Printing Industry

Comment

Image Credits: science photo (opens in a new window) / Shutterstock (opens in a new window)

John Dogru

Contributor

John Dogru is CEO of 3D Printer OS.

You probably don’t own a 3D printer yet. Like computers in the early 1980s, it’s an intriguing new technology that hasn’t quite found its place in the home.

However, schools and universities are proving to be a petri dish of innovation, where there is an existing space for experimentation and practical application, as well as palpable enthusiasm for the technology among both teachers and students.

Through the use of new software and Computer Aided Design (CAD), university and K-12 students alike can see their work come to life as it’s squirted magically into shape at the end of a heat-resistant nozzle. Students can build dioramas that genuinely excite: geometry has suddenly become physical and immediate, and math and science are no longer a hard slog through a dry textbook. Educators are harnessing their students’ creativity, and the next generation of designers, artists and scientists are being propelled in the right direction.

But 3D printing is not simply a catalyst that improves the lives of fortunate children and young adults in the education system. The fact is, there’s a very effective feedback loop in operation right now, and the primary driver behind innovation and development in the 3D printing industry is coming from education. I’m going to talk about three ways in which 3D printing and education are changing the world together.

Education Ignites Demand For Child-Focused Software Development

In response to increased educational demand, CAD software has evolved dramatically in the last few years — and it’s not just engineers who are using it. Where before 3D printing was almost exclusively part of the manufacturing industry, demand for the technology in the classroom has pushed companies into developing technology to suit educational needs. As a result, there has been an explosion in the number of 3D design programs, especially for children, and this is allowing K-12 educators to make the most of the technology.

Educational institutes are already using 3D printing at the middle-school level, allowing students to move away from the old-fashioned poster and cardboard projects toward more inspiring and practical 3D modeling experimentation.

The Northern New York Robotics Academy’s Mars Colony project, for example, sees children using CAD software and a 3D printer to design and build Mars rovers, shape settler living quarters and build water supply resources. Not only is it fun, but it also is an educational opportunity to teach kids to use software and hardware.

James Carroll, founder of the academy said, “The application of this technology is only limited by the ambition of the teacher and creativity of the students — and there’s no cap on either of those things here.”

Carroll went on to say that 3D printing technology is revolutionizing education at the academy, giving students extraordinary levels of motivation and the opportunity to exercise their imaginations, as well as practice skills that will serve them in the future, in an exciting new way.

Competitions such as the Edu-Tech 3D Challenge are helping children discover their design talents, as well as giving them the chance to showcase their work and potentially win a MakerBot Replicator 2 3D printing unit for their school.

Moreover, apps like Zotebook.io allow children (or adults) to free draw their designs in 2D and see them converted into exact models, ready for 3D or laser printing. Although apps like this are simple, they make abstract theories practical, models testable and teach students how the 3D printing process works.

For younger children, Dr. Fluff’s Robot Factory is a free and easy-to-use Android app that helps them create 3D models of robots. With apps like this, young children are learning to accurately manipulate images on screens, then see tangible results. Furthermore, teachers without access to 3D printers can send off for their students’ printed models in the mail, which, although perhaps not as fun to watch, at least adds an element of suspense to the class.

Then there’s FormZ, software that uses tutorials and practical application to teach students how to design and model in 3D. FormZ comes with specific student licenses that allow high school and university students free access for 12 months, and gives them invaluable experience with professional software.

Of course, there are many more programs and apps around, and far too many to mention here, but they do all have one thing in common: Although building a cardboard volcano in a shoe box is fun and educational, these apps and desktop programs are helping students develop valuable skills early in their educational lives. These are skills that can be applied in the real world and help them in their careers in the long run.

Breaking Down The Classroom Walls

Since the mid-1990s, the Internet has helped break down classroom walls with unprecedented access to information and communication. Now, 3D printing is adding a tangible element to the mix.

Teaming up students in K-12 and at the university level with international groups presents an interesting opportunity; it’s like the modern-day pen pal, but much more powerful. We’re seeing the beginnings of real-time collaboration among schools and colleges around the world, and — with 3D printing — project work will never be the same again. Files created for printing can easily be shared, which means that curriculums and even new subjects can be developed. Imagine a college classroom where the end project is not a hypothetical product but a real 3D printable solar panel design that can be printed for less than $30.

Take the recent success of the e-NABLE project as an example of the impact 3D printing can have on global design and production. The project began when a South African carpenter got in touch with an American prop maker in order to make a mechanical prosthetic hand for a young boy. After successfully creating the life-changing design, the pair then gave plans away for free in order to benefit people all over the world.

The project has since grown into a global network of people setting out to help others whom they may never have met. For example, high school students from the Ben Barber Career and Technology Academy in Texas became involved in the project, collaborating to create a 3D-printed hand for Jayme Sims, a man who lost four fingers in a wood chipper accident. The prosthetic was based on the original e-NABLE design and only cost $50 to produce.

We can now build educational courses where students in London, the U.S. or anywhere in the world can together collaborate on projects that have the potential to change the lives of individuals and groups on the other side of the planet.

Changing The 3D Landscape

With CAD software and 3D printers now being designed to meet educational needs, the marketplace is shifting shape. Students are now learning how to use free, simple programs like TinkerCAD and are being taught to think in 3D in much the same way that many of us were taught how to use Microsoft Word from an early age.

This fundamental shift in focus and development from the industry is creating a whole new class of adoption. Instead of just engineers making prototypes, we are now seeing artists using 3D printing to form beautiful and interesting objects and designs that would be nearly impossible to achieve through any other medium.

Furthermore, it’s not just engineering schools picking up the tech; it’s reaching the general populace, too. Duke University is currently rolling out campus-wide access to 3D printing for its entire student body to offer the benefits of the technology to each and every one of its students.

“In the first four weeks of being open our students have accumulated 1478 hours of 3D printing across 601 print jobs. We did this using only seven printers and a small student support staff,” said Chip Bobbert, Digital Media Engineer at Duke University. “We hope not only to inspire our student body, but also to provoke new ways of thinking about problems and solutions. Technology like this has the power to change the way we see the world, and now is the time to embrace it.”

With open-source designs, education and competition-driven innovation, we’re going to see an exponential rise in both application and development of 3D tech. The investment in the future of the technology that we’re currently seeing will reap untold rewards, and that come from this upcoming generation.

Final Thoughts

New innovation in 3D printing is not just going to come from the engineering elite; it’s also going to spring forth from diverse groups due to the widespread access that the education system is providing. Students are on the front lines of tech adoption, and the way students interact with 3D printing has changed the trajectory of the industry. As they learn how to design and print materials, they also are learning that technology itself opens the door to endless possibilities. Millennials and Generation Z are growing up with an entirely different mindset.

More TechCrunch

Zen Educate, an online marketplace that connects schools with teachers, has raised $37 million in a Series B round of funding. The raise comes amid a growing teacher shortage crisis…

Zen Educate raises $37M and acquires Aquinas Education as it tries to address the teacher shortage

“When I heard the released demo, I was shocked, angered and in disbelief that Mr. Altman would pursue a voice that sounded so eerily similar to mine.”

Scarlett Johansson says that OpenAI approached her to use her voice

A new self-driving truck — manufactured by Volvo and loaded with autonomous vehicle tech developed by Aurora Innovation — could be on public highways as early as this summer.  The…

Aurora and Volvo unveil self-driving truck designed for a driverless future

The European venture capital firm raised its fourth fund as fund as climate tech “comes of age.”

ETF Partners raises €284M for climate startups that will be effective quickly — not 20 years down the road

Copilot, Microsoft’s brand of generative AI, will soon be far more deeply integrated into the Windows 11 experience.

Microsoft wants to make Windows an AI operating system, launches Copilot+ PCs

Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch Space. For those who haven’t heard, the first crewed launch of Boeing’s Starliner capsule has been pushed back yet again to no earlier than…

TechCrunch Space: Star(side)liner

When I attended Automate in Chicago a few weeks back, multiple people thanked me for TechCrunch’s semi-regular robotics job report. It’s always edifying to get that feedback in person. While…

These 81 robotics companies are hiring

The top vehicle safety regulator in the U.S. has launched a formal probe into an April crash involving the all-electric VinFast VF8 SUV that claimed the lives of a family…

VinFast crash that killed family of four now under federal investigation

When putting a video portal in a public park in the middle of New York City, some inappropriate behavior will likely occur. The Portal, the vision of Lithuanian artist and…

NYC-Dublin real-time video portal reopens with some fixes to prevent inappropriate behavior

Longtime New York-based seed investor, Contour Venture Partners, is making progress on its latest flagship fund after lowering its target. The firm closed on $42 million, raised from 64 backers,…

Contour Venture Partners, an early investor in Datadog and Movable Ink, lowers the target for its fifth fund

Meta’s Oversight Board has now extended its scope to include the company’s newest platform, Instagram Threads, and has begun hearing cases from Threads.

Meta’s Oversight Board takes its first Threads case

The company says it’s refocusing and prioritizing fewer initiatives that will have the biggest impact on customers and add value to the business.

SeekOut, a recruiting startup last valued at $1.2 billion, lays off 30% of its workforce

The U.K.’s self-proclaimed “world-leading” regulations for self-driving cars are now official, after the Automated Vehicles (AV) Act received royal assent — the final rubber stamp any legislation must go through…

UK’s autonomous vehicle legislation becomes law, paving the way for first driverless cars by 2026

ChatGPT, OpenAI’s text-generating AI chatbot, has taken the world by storm. What started as a tool to hyper-charge productivity through writing essays and code with short text prompts has evolved…

ChatGPT: Everything you need to know about the AI-powered chatbot

SoLo Funds CEO Travis Holoway: “Regulators seem driven by press releases when they should be motivated by true consumer protection and empowering equitable solutions.”

Fintech lender SoLo Funds is being sued again by the government over its lending practices

Hard tech startups generate a lot of buzz, but there’s a growing cohort of companies building digital tools squarely focused on making hard tech development faster, more efficient and —…

Rollup wants to be the hardware engineer’s workhorse

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is not just about groundbreaking innovations, insightful panels, and visionary speakers — it’s also about listening to YOU, the audience, and what you feel is top of…

Disrupt Audience Choice vote closes Friday

Google says the new SDK would help Google expand on its core mission of connecting the right audience to the right content at the right time.

Google is launching a new Android feature to drive users back into their installed apps

Jolla has taken the official wraps off the first version of its personal server-based AI assistant in the making. The reborn startup is building a privacy-focused AI device — aka…

Jolla debuts privacy-focused AI hardware

The ChatGPT mobile app’s net revenue first jumped 22% on the day of the GPT-4o launch and continued to grow in the following days.

ChatGPT’s mobile app revenue saw its biggest spike yet following GPT-4o launch

Dating app maker Bumble has acquired Geneva, an online platform built around forming real-world groups and clubs. The company said that the deal is designed to help it expand its…

Bumble buys community building app Geneva to expand further into friendships

CyberArk — one of the army of larger security companies founded out of Israel — is acquiring Venafi, a specialist in machine identity, for $1.54 billion. 

CyberArk snaps up Venafi for $1.54B to ramp up in machine-to-machine security

Founder-market fit is one of the most crucial factors in a startup’s success, and operators (someone involved in the day-to-day operations of a startup) turned founders have an almost unfair advantage…

OpenseedVC, which backs operators in Africa and Europe starting their companies, reaches first close of $10M fund

A Singapore High Court has effectively approved Pine Labs’ request to shift its operations to India.

Pine Labs gets Singapore court approval to shift base to India

The AI Safety Institute, a U.K. body that aims to assess and address risks in AI platforms, has said it will open a second location in San Francisco. 

UK opens office in San Francisco to tackle AI risk

Companies are always looking for an edge, and searching for ways to encourage their employees to innovate. One way to do that is by running an internal hackathon around a…

Why companies are turning to internal hackathons

Featured Article

I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Women in tech still face a shocking level of mistreatment at work. Melinda French Gates is one of the few working to change that.

2 days ago
I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s  broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Blue Origin has successfully completed its NS-25 mission, resuming crewed flights for the first time in nearly two years. The mission brought six tourist crew members to the edge of…

Blue Origin successfully launches its first crewed mission since 2022

Creative Artists Agency (CAA), one of the top entertainment and sports talent agencies, is hoping to be at the forefront of AI protection services for celebrities in Hollywood. With many…

Hollywood agency CAA aims to help stars manage their own AI likenesses

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’