3D printers are in demand – every time a student discovers the magic of 3D printing by watching the nozzle building the real 3D object, more creative ideas are inspired. 3D printers let students see the results of their efforts, enhancing their motivation and engagement with classroom content by being creative in producing high-quality projects.
3D printing can provide teachers with three-dimensional visual aids to help illustrate difficult concepts, enhance hands-on interactive learning, and drive class engagement. These are just some of the reasons 3D printers are becoming so popular in schools.
ITWire spoke to Adam O’Neill, managing director, Y Soft – ANZ, to learn more about additive manufacturing, specifically in the field of education.
Teachers often struggle to give students the access they need to 3D printers. They need IT managers to help by providing print management and accounting systems that make it just as easy to control the 3D printing environment as it is to control the traditional printing environment.
Recently, Y Soft, together with the Technical School in Prosek, Czech Republic, undertook a one-year study to monitor the interaction of students with 3D printing in the classroom. They made some key observations:
- 60% of printed objects were related to education.
- 37% were for personal and entertainment use.
- 3% were printed as part of the school’s marketing activities.
- 40 filament spools (the thermoplastic material used to print a 3D object) were consumed.
- Each printer was in use approximately five hours per day.
Q. Does this mean every student can expect access to 3D printers?
Although educational institutions recognise the learning benefits of 3D printing, across the globe they are restricting student access to 3D printers because they lack the means to manage printer access, control costs and define the curriculum.
A recent report on 3D printing in education, conducted by Dimensional Research, revealed that 35% of institutions rate student access to 3D printers as fairly or very difficult. Just 13% said access was very easy. Encouragingly, 52% said student access was fairly easy, although there was a set process involved.
Many educational institutions would like to dramatically increase the purchase of 3D printers to allow the use of the printers outside of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Maths) subjects, and introduce them to students at an earlier age.
This highlights the value that IT managers can add when it comes to enabling the 3D print environment.
Q. What are the barriers to broader use of 3D printers in education?
Teachers are struggling with three key areas:
- Managing and controlling access. This means that 3D printers are locked in a room requiring special access, available only during special hours, or worse, the student must ask the teacher/teacher aid to print the model. Often 3D printers are underutilised.
- Managing costs and justifying the return on investment. Educators are not able to manage 3D printing time and materials costs to allocate expenses per classroom or department. Also, in schools where pay-to-print systems exist for paper printing, only a small number of similar systems exist for 3D printers.
- Incorporating 3D printing projects into classroom curriculum. A lack of guidance exists on adding 3D printing to classroom curriculums, particularly in STEAM subjects.
it is important to note that overcoming these barriers can be as simple as aligning the institution’s 3D print management with its existing, traditional print management. IT managers already use print management solutions to manage paper-based printing; 3D printers can be effectively managed using the same tool.
With better management comes the ability to offer freer access to printers while keeping a tight rein on costs. This can help free up teachers to explore more options and ideas when it comes to incorporating 3D printing projects into the classroom curriculum.
Q. What should IT managers consider when implementing 3D technology?
There are a number of challenges for educational institutions installing 3D printers. These include understanding the total time and 3D material cost per print job, as well as the necessary requirement of door locks to allow only the print job owner to remove the 3D print from the printer, and access controls to prevent other students from stopping a print job in progress.
Overall, there are six unique challenges that IT managers at educational institutions should consider when implementing 3D printing technology. These are:
- Cost management and recovery. Each object consumes different amounts of filament and it is difficult to set a transparent, accurate, and automated payment system to help recover the total cost of ownership for 3D printers.
- 3D print management. 3D printer fleets that are not administered and managed like paper printers can lead to, for example, late identification of failed prints, refills of filament spools, and lack of overall control over who is using the printers and what is being printed.
- For teachers and students who have highly-sensitive designs or projects, keeping the 3D output secure and unseen may be important. IT managers need to make sure the printer has a door that can be locked and opened only by the authorised owner of the print.
- Workflow and integration with existing processes. Efficient use of 3D printing processes is critical to take full advantage of the technology. Establishing a workflow, the sequence of activities from the design creation through to a finished product will make the use of 3D printing efficient and standardised. Understand the process currently used and be sure to choose a 3D printing solution that can work within the current workflow, or have the capabilities to enhance it. One such capability could be the ability to track and deliver reports on the costs of 3D printing that reflect time and materials for each job by project number. These reports may need to be uploaded into existing processes, such as those used by the accounting department for billing purposes for efficient finance operations.
- Intellectual property. Since 3D printing enables the duplication of parts from computer files, it presents new challenges for IT managers, who need to address concerns about IP protection or potential copying, particularly at research universities.
Q. How can IT managers make 3D printing work for educators?
An opportunity exists for a comprehensive solution; a 3D printer combined with print management and accounting systems. These are solutions that exist today for 2D paper printers. Additionally, the 3D printing and education industries must work together to provide educators with sets of clearly-defined 3D curricula, particularly in STEAM subjects.
There are many different 3D print technologies on the market. While each technology involves additive layers to create the 3D model, there are a variety of other considerations. Cost, speed, printer size, ease of use, and available support and maintenance are easily investigated and compared against your needs. Examining how your education institution can use 3D printing and defining where the greatest value can be achieved will guide you on the important features or capabilities needed.
We are already seeing many new innovations in 3D printing that are enabling improvements in education. However, 3D printing is now experiencing an innovation abundance. The education sector has much to look forward to when it comes to 3D print. IT managers should expect solution providers to work with them to help them exploit its many opportunities by making the right choice when it comes to acquisition and implementation.