Fluxaxis logo

Nurturing Tomorrow's Talent: 3D Printing & Education

Can you feel the stress? It’s the beginning of June and we’re right in the middle of the GCSE and A-level exam period. Schools are already busy places and at this time of year, it notches up another gear.

With the curriculum groaning under the weight of subjects to be covered and teachers already stretched, how do we squeeze in time to ensure the next generation are equipped to understand the applications and potential of Additive Manufacturing?

We’ve spoken in a previous blog about the need to change the way designers think. Wouldn’t it be nice if the next generation of designers came ready-equipped and prepared for a world where today’s emerging technologies are tomorrow’s established norm?

There have been a few initiatives. Back in 2013, the Department for Education funded a trial to explore the potential use of 3D printers not just in D&T subjects, but across all STEM subjects. You can read the report here. It’s interesting reading, with (obviously, we think) hugely positive results. One teacher commented:

“All the pupils who have been involved with the 3D printer so far have been inspired by its possibilities. The opportunity to realise a concept or idea quickly into a 3D product is an incredibly powerful teaching tool.” David Jermy - Head of DT, Settlebeck School

The report goes on to make the following points that represent Additive Manufacturing in a nutshell:

  1. Pupils could see tangible results more quickly.
  2. They could make shapes and components on a 3D printer that they couldn’t make with the technology they had in class.
  3. They could explore more complex designs and ideas.

Great! But roll forward seven years and what about today? There’s no doubt everyone knows how important it is to include 3D printing across all levels of education but just how established is it?

3D Natives took a look at this question last year in their blog: ‘’In the schools of Europe… the learning experience and education for digital media is becoming a priority, not only in school education, but also in the classroom itself. 3D printing or 3D technologies should be mentioned as a significant example to realise that.’’

The blog goes on to quote Elvira Rach, head of education at iGo3D GmbH: “Education must be involved to prepare students for the future, but these changes are so profound that it is not enough to just place an iPad in the classroom. 3D printing can completely change the way students learn and the physical tangibility of the content, learning in a special way.

So, it’s not just about providing schools with iPads – or 3D printers, for that matter. It’s about changing the way pupils learn. Which means changing the way teachers teach. Which means training. And this means promoting collaboration with the 3D printing industry to make sure we’re developing the skills we’ll need in the future.

But with school budgets already under strain, it seems there aren’t as many initiatives as there should be. In 2017, AM UK, an independent government-backed collaboration, put forward a National Strategy that set out to establish the UK as a world leader in 3D printing.

“The UK currently only captures 5% share of a worldwide market that was worth £3.59 billion in 2015. As this global market grows, it is vital that the UK gains ground. With this technology at a point where it can really take off, the opportunities for commercial gain are out there.’’

They forecast that by 2025, there’s the potential to capture £69bn of the global market. Educating the pupils of today in the right way helps ensure we stay at the forefront of AM tomorrow. So where is the investment? Where are the initiatives?

Well, there are a few.

Take this example from Wales. The ‘Factory of the Future’ is a project that aims to promote collaboration between engineering experts at Swansea University and regional manufacturers, introducing ‘smart manufacturing’ such as 3D printing, and ultimately helping prepare the local manufacturing sector for the 4th Industrial Revolution. And in this spirit of preparedness and forward planning, Swansea University have loaned 3D printers to eight local primary schools. This summer, led by Ysgol Gynradd Nantgaredig in Carmarthenshire, the children are 3D printing, assembling and then racing battery-controlled toy cars. Engaging and, well, FUN! And a brilliant way of incubating the new way of thinking that’s needed for Additive Manufacturing in the future.

“But it’s vitally important to introduce our schoolchildren to smart manufacturing underpinning technologies like 3D printing from a young age because this will help equip them with the skills they’ll need to access the high-paid jobs this sector will create in coming years. ‘’ Dr Dimitris Pletsas, of Swansea University College of Engineering

And the good news is, they’re hoping to expand the programme across Europe.

There will, of course, be other initiatives going on that we won’t have come across. But surely there should be more? Shouldn't we be coming across them regularly?

In Finland, Helsinki’s new central library, Oodi, is described in the Independent ‘’An ambitious attempt by one of the most literate and digitally savvy nations in the world to reinvent the library for its population’s future needs.’’ It has ‘Maker Spaces’. With laser cutters. And, no prizes for guessing this one: 3D printers.

Public libraries and schools. The future of making is here! We just need to nurture it.

Do you have a 3D scanning or printing project we can help with? Please get in touch!