What is 3D Printing?

Also known as rapid prototyping, 3D printing refers to technologies that construct physical objects from three-dimensional (3D) digital content such as computer aided design (CAD), computer aided tomography (CAT), and X-ray crystallography. A 3D printer builds a tangible model or prototype from the file, one layer at a time, using an inkjet-like process to spray a bonding agent onto a very thin layer of fixable powder. The bonding agent can be applied very accurately to build an object from the bottom up, layer by layer. The process even accommodates moving parts within the object. Using different powders and bonding agents, color can be applied, and prototype parts can be rendered in plastic, resin, or metal. This technology is commonly used in manufacturing to build prototypes of almost any object (scaled to fit the printer, of course) — models, plastic and metal parts, or any object that can be described in three dimensions.

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(1) How might this technology be relevant to the educational sector you know best?

  • Working with students studying art, design and fashion, I see the ability to produce one off items in three dimensions as extremely attractive, and I believe 3D printing will move out of the traditional environs of industrial design and engineering in the next few years, and into the artistic realm. However, the use of such prototyping technology may sit uneasily with some of the more traditional disciplines e.g. fashion, where a great deal of time, effort and skill is invested in teaching the students how to select fabrics, cut patterns, and sew garments together - if all this can be done with a computer monitor and a 3D printer, then why bother with the traditional, labour intensive methods of production? - damian.mcdonald damian.mcdonald Oct 14, 2013
  • The baseline cost of the technology has dropped to where it's accessible to most institutions, leading faculty and students to begin experimenting with a wider range of applications. - amichaelberman amichaelberman Oct 20, 2013
  • I work on a Digital Media and Design Program at the University of Connecticut. We have a pretty broad definition of Digital Media. As 3D Printing continues to become more widely available I think we're see more advanced 3D modeling applications output to 3D printing. Students studying 3D animation will be able to transfer their skills and produce content for this medium. I believe it makes sense for this process to be explored and adopted into our program.[- matthew.worwood matthew.worwood Oct 21, 2013]

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • 3D Printing is one way to do rapid prototyping, but not the only way. Also, 3D printing can used for purposes other than prototyping. It can enable artists to print objects that would be difficult to sculpt. It can be used to print custom replacement parts for machines. In medicine, it can be used to print replacement bones. - allan.gyorke allan.gyorke Oct 12, 2013
  • Interest in this space is largely being driven by the technology becoming more affordable (under $1000) and improvements in the resolution of the printed objects. - allan.gyorke allan.gyorke Oct 12, 2013
  • The description above mentioned powder-based printing, but that's not the only form of raw materials. Fused Filament Fabrication involves melting and depositing materials from a plastic filament that comes in large coils. - allan.gyorke allan.gyorke Oct 12, 2013
  • Let's not forget that food can also be created using this technology! - damian.mcdonald damian.mcdonald Oct 14, 2013 Yes! This was something new I discovered from the materials that were shared earlier in the month. I think it certainly needs to be referenced above as it opens up a whole new dimension. I was intrigued by the reference of a 3D printer one day being able to prepare a meal based on your specific calorie, mineral and vitamin needs in a given moment. [- matthew.worwood matthew.worwood Oct 27, 2013]
  • 3D scanning is coming on quickly now and will be closely connected with 3D printing. - amichaelberman amichaelberman Oct 20, 2013
  • Would try to keep description from only describing one type of 3D printer. Biological printing of organs and tissues will be huge in the near horizon. A representative from NASA at World Maker Faire also described their interest in taking 3D printers to distant stations where they could begin producing needed technologies/structures on site instead of having to transport them there. - dicksonk dicksonk Oct 21, 2013

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on higher education?

  • Whilst the potential impact of 3D printing is huge, cost issues aside (Are cost issues ever aside?!), the main problem to be overcome with be the technophobia and/or luddite mentality of the academics teaching the subject. In my example in section 1, in the area of fashion design, whole modules on fashion design courses are based around the acquisition of traditional manufacturing skills - if these are no longer necessary thanks to 3D printing, then what will they teach? From my experience teaching in film and television education, practical courses became more theoretical courses, as the need for traditional skills were diminished by the rise of digital production and post production methods, rendering the "old ways" redundant. If the "Old ways" are redundant, then so are the teaching staff who teach them. This means that resistance to the "new ways" will be high in all but the most forward thinking of our institutions, and therefore the progress of the technology into the creative arena will be slowed to a crawl. - damian.mcdonald damian.mcdonald Oct 14, 2013
  • Because of the lower costs we're seeing now, we're going to see many more opportunities for students to experiment directly with 3D printing equipment, which will open up new applications. The availability of 3D models as open content will encourage experimentation even for those lacking sophisticated 3D design skills. - amichaelberman amichaelberman Oct 20, 2013
  • I'm excited to see how 3D visualization projects like BioVisions at Harvard University will utilize 3D printing in their work. Could it be possible to print a blood cell one day! http://multimedia.mcb.harvard.edu/ [- matthew.worwood matthew.worwood Oct 21, 2013]

(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

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