3D Printing in Technology and Engineering Education

By Martin, Robert L.; Bowden, Nicholas S. et al. | Technology and Engineering Teacher, May-June 2014 | Go to article overview

3D Printing in Technology and Engineering Education


Martin, Robert L., Bowden, Nicholas S., Merrill, Chris, Technology and Engineering Teacher


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In the past five years, there has been tremendous growth in the production and use of desktop 3D printers. This growth has been driven by the increasing availability of inexpensive computing and electronics technologies. The ability to rapidly share ideas and intelligence over the Internet has also played a key role in the growth. Growth is also spread widely because Internet communities allow people to share designs that can be manufactured and reengineered without leaving their desks. President Obama even recognized this technological change when he stated, "3D Printing is the wave of the future," in his 2013 State of the Union Address (Obama, 2013). Educational institutions at all levels are beginning to recognize the value of 3D printing technology and have begun to incorporate these machines into their laboratories. A 3D printer facilitates the interactive instruction in technical concepts and systems consistent with the nation's focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) learning initiatives. President Obama has proposed new manufacturing tax breaks that will create more robust research and development spending. This shift in focus is aimed at advanced manufacturing technologies, including 3D printing, to bring a competitive edge back to America (Foroohar and Saporito, 2013).

The purpose of this article is to share introductory information about 3D printing, how 3D printing can be used in the technology and engineering classroom--especially how this teaching and learning artifact directly relates to learning standards--and to share examples of hands-on artifacts that can be designed and prototyped in the classroom.

While 3D printing is rich in its connections with mathematics and science, the authors have limited this article to Its connections with Standards for Technological Literacy: Content for the Study of Technology (STL) (ITEA/ITEEA, 2000/2002/2007). The authors have focused solely on STL because the nature of this article lends itself to overall understanding of 3D printing and its role as a new teaching and learning artifact for the technology and engineering classroom. 3D printing can help to meet the benchmarks found in 15 of the 20 STL standards without any curricular hesitations from the technology and engineering teacher (STL 1-4, 6-14, 17, and 19).

The STL standards and benchmarks that can be addressed through the use of 3D printing as a teaching and learning artifact will, of course, depend upon the curriculum that is in place at each teacher's school, but overtly, 3D printing may help to meet nearly all of the STL standards. For purposes of this article, the authors have provided examples of how 3D printing can be used to help meet the first four:

* STL 1: The characteristics and scope of technology (benchmarks include people and technology; tools, materials, and skills; creative thinking; human creativity and motivation; product demand; rate of technological diffusion; and commercialization of technology).

* STL 2: The core concepts of technology (benchmarks systems, resources, requirements; trade-offs; controls; and optimization).

* STL 3: The relationships among technologies and connections between technology and other fields (benchmarks knowledge from other fields of study; knowledge, protection, and patents; and technological knowledge and advances of science and technology and vice versa).

* STL 4: The cultural, social, economic, and political effects of technology (benchmarks helpful or harmful; unintended consequences; attitudes toward development and use; ethical issues; and influences on economy, politics, and culture).

THE EVOLUTION OF 3D PRINTING TECHNOLOGY

The 3D printer is an adaptation of Computer Numeric Controlled (CNC) machines that were first invented in 1952 when researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology wired an early computer to a milling machine (Gershenfeld, 2012). …

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