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The Transformative Power of Additive Manufacturing in Education

Additive manufacturing in educational facilities can help to boost student engagement. Universities use them to enhance design creativity, enable experimentation with prototypes and producing useful assets.

Solid Print3D

May 30, 2024

Additive manufacturing systems (as known as 3D printing), have become a mainstay in educational facilities, utilised to help boost student engagement. Universities use them to enhance design creativity, enable experimentation with prototypes and producing useful assets. This provides students with access to technologies that can help them in their future careers. Additive manufacturing (AM) is now emerging as a powerful tool that can enhance hands-on learning, encourage innovation, and prepare students for moving into the rapidly evolving technological landscape.

Hands-on Learning Experience

In traditional classroom settings, students often rely on textbooks, diagrams, and simulations to grasp complex ideas. With additive manufacturing , they can transform their digital designs into physical models, a process that provides them with a tactile and immersive learning experience. This approach not only reinforces knowledge retention, but also cultivates critical thinking, problem-solving, and spatial reasoning skills.

One of the most significant advantages of incorporating AM into educational settings is the facilitation of hands-on learning. As more than 70% of us claim to learn better by gaining first-hand experience, 3D printing maximises the potential for this by allowing learners to design, iterate, and physically create tangible objects. In this way, students gain a deeper understanding of theoretical concepts and practical applications.

Encouraging Innovation and Creativity

Additive manufacturing  empowers students to explore their creativity and push the boundaries of innovation. By removing the constraints of traditional manufacturing methods, students can bring their wildest ideas to life, which fosters a productive mindset of curiosity and experimentation.

In fields such as engineering, architecture, and product design, 3D printing allows students to rapidly prototype and test their designs, facilitating an iterative learning process. They can quickly identify and address flaws, refine their concepts, and explore alternative solutions, ultimately leading to more innovative and better optimised outcomes.

The University of Bristol, for example, has recently purchased a Mayku Multiplier for use across multiple departments and societies, including SEDS (Students for the Exploration and Development of Space), DASI2 (Department for Aerospace Vehicle Design and System Development) and Bristol Racing (a student led racing team competing in the Greenpower F24 event).

Bristol Racing are using the machine in an attempt to improve the aerodynamics of their car ahead of their next competition. Spoked wheels create a lot of drag on the vehicle, so they are attempting to create strong, light, close tolerance wheel covers that will enhance the aerodynamics of their vehicle.

Their workshop is equipped with various facilities – lathes, CNC mills, 3D printers  and laser cutters. With the recent addition of the Mayku Multiplier, they decided to 3D print eight wheel covers (one for each side of the four wheels), after using a CNC machine to make the master template in MDF.

3D Scanning a live crocodile

Applications of AM in STEM

The versatility of additive manufacturing AM makes it a valuable tool across numerous academic disciplines, offering a wide range of applications and learning opportunities. In STEM, AM 3D printing has become an indispensable resource. For example, in engineering and robotics courses, students can design and create customised parts, prototypes, and functional mechanisms. In biology and chemistry, 3D printing enables the creation of highly accurate molecular models, anatomical structures, and laboratory equipment, thereby enhancing the understanding of complex concepts.

A 3D scanner was recently used to produce detailed models of Tomistoma crocodiles for use in the study focusing on biomimicry solutions for engineering applications. The study focused on the how the crocodile scutes (bony external plates) prevent erosion and drag while also resisting penetration from predator attacks.

Using the 3D scanning technologies, researchers were able to capture the crocodile’s geometry and profile with an accuracy of 100 microns, including the details and texture of the scutes. In the future, the researchers will be able to use additive manufacturing AM to recreate scute prototypes for engineering applications with ease, thanks to the data that has been captured.

Art and Design

The art and design disciplines have embraced additive manufacturing  as a means of artistic expression and innovative product development. Students create intricate sculptures, jewellery, and fashion accessories, exploring new forms and geometries that would be challenging or impossible to achieve with traditional methods. Additionally, additive manufacturing  enables rapid prototyping of designs, allowing for iterative refinement.

Imagine designing a piece of jewellery that gets you truly excited and will form the focus of a new collection! Now imagine producing a prototype, or even a finished product, within an hour or two of the initial design. Thanks to additive manufacturing , this is perfectly possible; the prototype can quickly come to life and be used as the basis for further exciting developments. And a big plus is that the technology doesn’t require a budget-busting investment. Many 3D printers are modestly priced and can operate directly from a laptop or desktop computer.

Traditional jewellery-making is a complex, intricate and labour-intensive process that involves many steps such as:

  • Creating a drawing of the design idea.
  • The time-consuming process of making a master model with modelling clay or another sculpting material.
  • Making a press form using the master model.
  • Making an intermediate form from the press form. This intermediate form generates the casting mould.
  • Pouring molten metal into the mould to make the final piece of jewellery.

In contrast, additive manufacturing  reduces this to just two steps: creating the design and printing it. The introduction of 3D printers into their workflow can help jewellery designers spend less time on routine production tasks and less time in production leaves more time to work creatively. And with 3D printing, it’s possible to see the results of that creativity in as little as ten minutes!

At Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) the Sculpture, Jewellery and Metalsmithing departments have embraced additive manufacturing  as a means of enhancing artistic expression and exploration. Students create intricate and innovative designs, pushing the boundaries of traditional techniques and materials. The school’s 3D printing facilities have enabled students to bring their creative visions to life in tangible forms.

Medical and Healthcare Applications

In the medical and healthcare fields, additive manufacturing  is transforming education by facilitating the creation of realistic anatomical models, surgical guides, and patient-specific implants. Students in medicine, dentistry, and biomedical engineering can benefit from these tangible representations, which enhance their understanding of complex anatomical structures and surgical procedures.

For example, at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) the Keck Centre for 3D Innovation has integrated additive manufacturing  into a variety of educational programs, including engineering, art, and architecture. Students have created innovative projects such as 3Dprinted prosthetic hands, architectural models, and customised art installations, fostering interdisciplinary collaboration and hands-on learning.

The University of Michigan Medical School has implemented additive manufacturing  in its anatomy curriculum. Students can 3D print life-size models of human organs, bones, and anatomical structures, enabling them to gain a deeper understanding of complex anatomical relationships and better prepare for clinical practice.

Research and Development

York University’s Electronics Additive Manufacturing Lab significantly enhanced its research capabilities with additive electronic printers.  Furthermore, transitioning from the V-One PCB (Printed Circuit Boards) printer to Voltera’s NOVA materials dispensing system has supported ground breaking research in flexible hybrid electronics, resulting in several notable publications. 

The adoption of the technology, in particular the Voltera NOVA has significantly impacted the department, facilitating innovative research and the development of next-generation electronics. 

Key Achievements: 

  • Enhanced Research Capabilities 
  • Innovative Publications: Research enabled by NOVA has led to several important papers, including studies on printed tattoo electrodes, low-roughness 3D-printed surfaces, and active electrodes for EEG monitoring. 
  • Broad Application Potential: NOVA supports the development of conformal, stretchable, wearable, disposable, and biocompatible electronics. It enables the creation of new form factors and applications previously impossible with conventional technologies. 
  • New Opportunities: The system opens up possibilities for innovative applications in various fields, including wearables, biomedical sensors, and RFID tags. 

Read the full article 

As additive manufacturing continues to evolve and become more accessible, its integration into educational settings will become increasingly important.  Furthermore, the collaborative nature of additive manufacturing projects promotes teamwork, communication, and interdisciplinary collaboration, preparing students for the multifaceted challenges they will face in their future careers. As educational institutions embrace this transformative technology, it plays a crucial role in shaping the next generation of innovators, problem-solvers, and creative thinkers.

To learn more about:

  • Promoting hands-on learning and problem-solving 
  • Boosting learner engagement 
  • Enhanced research capabilities 
  • Supporting practical learning and problem solving 

and integrating these technologies into educational settings, contact our expert team today.

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