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Last updated on April 20, 2014 at 14:04 EDT

Can 3D Printers Revolutionize Education? One Michigan Engineer Thinks They Just Might

July 31, 2013
Image Caption: 3D printers deposit multiple thin layers of plastic and other materials to make a virtually infinite variety of designs - including these parts for a 3D printer. Credit: MTU

Michael Harper for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

Twelve teams of Michigan teachers are visiting Michigan Technological University (MTU) this week to get some hands-on experience with 3D printing technology. Here they’ll learn about the emerging trend of creating tangible objects from 3D Computer Aided Design (CAD) models and even build their own units to take back to the classroom with them.

The workshop is sponsored by GM, PACE (Partners for the Advancement of Collaborative Engineering Education) and Square One, a nonprofit educational organization. While there, the teachers will be under the guidance of Joshua Pearce, associate professor of materials, science, electrical and computer engineering at MTU. Pearce has plenty of experience working with 3D printers and collaborates with hardware and software designers to develop future models and designs of 3D printers. Pearce and a team recently released a study which found families can save a significant amount of money by printing common household items at home rather than buy them online.

3D printing, or turning digital 3D CAD models into tangible, real-life objects, is currently experiencing a boom thanks to increasingly cheaper units and a thriving community of “creators,” fans who design the CAD models and share their ideas with one another. As such, many are looking to this technology to completely revolutionize the way people buy products online or create their own goods at home.

Printers like the open source RepRap unit or MakerBot’s Replicator 2 have so far been used to generate replacement body parts (human ears and duck feet), playable vinyl albums (though in Lo-Fi quality), and even a printable plastic handgun that actually fires.

Pearce hopes 3D printing will become increasingly commonplace and wants schools to begin teaching students about a technology which could be ubiquitous by the time they reach adulthood.

“In addition to building 3D printers, the teachers will develop printable teaching and learning aids for their classrooms. These designs will be printed, tested, and shared with the global community so anyone with access to a 3D printer can make their own or tweak them for the needs of their students,” said Pearce, explaining the workshop taking place this week.

“3D printers will enable teachers everywhere to save tons of money and get precisely what they want for their classroom. It’s spawning a revolution.”

Pearce is also sponsoring a contest called 3D Printers for Peace which asks the question: “What would Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, or Gandhi make if they’d had access to 3D printing?” Contestants can submit their entries by September 1 to win either a fully assembled, open source 3D printer, the basic components of a printer which can then be used to build the rest of the unit, or the raw materials used in extrusion to create 3D objects.

Pearce recently released a study which found families can save between $280 and $1,900 by printing some their own basic household items rather than buy them online. Pearce claims the relative ease of use and a growing community of 3D printing enthusiasts is making the technology a household phenomenon.


Source: Michael Harper for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online