3D printing has become a hugely valuable tool within education environments including primary and secondary schools as well as in colleges and universities. 3D printers provide an exciting engagement tool for pupils and teachers alike. There is a wide range of resources, ideas and support available to help to embed 3D printing at all levels and in multiple different subject areas.
The ability to hold an object in your hand that you had been designing on a computer screen just minutes before is an incredibly powerful tool in any environment, when it comes to education it allows students to create a huge variety of useful models.
A Selection of 3D printing applications in Education
Biology students can utilise 3D printing to create physical models of organs, cell structures, viruses etc. to gain a better understanding of various naturally occurring 3D forms. Introductions to actual bio-printing can be made where live cells and growth factors are combined to create tissue-like structures that imitate natural tissues. These kinds of specialist applications offer massive opportunities in biomedicine with the potential to enable testing of treatments for diseases using artificially affected tissues, tissue repair, and even organ replacement. The more education on these use cases that can be provided, the faster these applications can be developed.
Similar to industrial automotive applications, 3D printing can be used to teach and educate students about the internal workings of vehicles and their sub-assemblies. Formula Student (FS) is a European educational engineering competition that aims to encourage young innovative people to take up careers in engineering. The use of additive manufacturing by these teams is now commonplace with the technology lending itself so well to bespoke, one-off parts that wouldn’t be economically viable to create with traditional manufacturing methods.
Students studying Geography can use 3D printers to create topographical maps using existing 3D models available online or by creating their own with elevation data available online. 3D models can be designed and created to study how water flows through various landscapes and environments. These physical models can be used to illustrate how erosion happens over time and even to show the effect of eruptions have on the contours of a volcano.
Replica artefacts and scale models of historical statues can be printed using online digital files made available by institutions such as the Smithsonian. A growing number of museums around the world are scanning objects to make them available to download and print at home or in the classroom. 3D printers are being used to bring cultural treasures such as ancient cities and cathedrals to life with physical models offering students a much more hands-on, immersive experience than before.
As in industry, engineering students can use 3D printing to create visual prototypes for form and fit testing as well as for functional, end-use parts to be integrated into product assemblies. Those from a civil engineering background can learn about how large-scale concrete 3D printers are starting to be used to produce entire bridges and buildings.
3D printing is heavily utilised by architecture firms and students alike. The ability to quickly and accurately create scale models of new designs is invaluable for validating decisions and visualising intent. Creating physical models of individual rooms to full buildings, and even large-scale city models allows students to interact with designs and communicate more effectively. Printing models saves time and money when compared with traditional architectural model making and allows for complex and intricate geometries to be created.