What is 3D Printing?

Known in industrial circles as rapid prototyping, 3D printing refers to technologies that construct physical objects from three-dimensional (3D) digital content such as 3D modeling software, computer-aided design (CAD) tools, computer-aided tomography (CAT), and X-ray crystallography. A 3D printer builds a tangible model or prototype from the electronic file, one layer at a time, through an extrusion-like process using plastics and other flexible materials, or an inkjet-like process to spray a bonding agent onto a very thin layer of fixable powder. The deposits created by the machine can be applied very accurately to build an object from the bottom up, layer by layer, with resolutions that, even in the least expensive machines, are more than sufficient to express a large amount of detail. The process even accommodates moving parts within the object. Using different materials and bonding agents, color can be applied, and parts can be rendered in plastic, resin, metal, tissue, and even food. This technology is commonly used in manufacturing to build prototypes of almost any object (scaled to fit the printer, of course) that can be conveyed in three dimensions.

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

  • (some related points have already been stated at "Makerspaces")- helga helga Oct 6, 2015
  • Repeating what I posted on the Makerspaces page: This fabulous learning resource/approach has, over the past couple of years, increasingly become so common on campuses (often within campus libraries) that it may have moved beyond being a horizon/Horizon technology. This doesn't mean everyone has a 3D printer--far from it; it just means that it's quickly moving beyond the point of being a developing technology.- paul.signorelli paul.signorelli Oct 14, 2015 agree that it is moving quickly into the mainstream but while many campuses (probably majority) have a 3D printer somewhere, it often is just available to engineering or architecture students. I don't think availability for students in all disciplines via a library 3D printer or similar locale is yet mainstream.- JoanLippincott JoanLippincott Oct 17, 2015
  • The use of 3D printing as a means for fast prototyping is valuable in a number of design-related disciplines. For character development, it is especially useful to be able to create a tangible asset from a rendered model of a character or other element for review and ultimately to present to the development team. While there is still a place for hand-sculpted modeling with clays, this allows a more direct interaction with the digital representation, and also enables those without traditional art skills to still produce real-world representations of rendered assets. - Dougdar Dougdar Oct 20, 2015
  • As Paul suggests, might be worth combining makerspaces and maker technologies, tools like 3d printing, laser cutters, and CNC routers, etc. The real rapid prototyping technologies at present are those that allow for multiple iterations of a design, perhaps at different scales. - dicksonk dicksonk Oct 21, 2015

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

  • There are two aspects of 3D printing that appear to be missing or underrepresented. First, there is the role of 3D printing within the context of idea generation. While the concept of fast prototyping appears to cover this, it still only provides a resulting outcome to an idea or concept rather that being an active element in the generation of a new concept. Access to 3D printers capable of working with a range of materials can provide experimentation and unexpected outcomes. Given the evolving role of 3D printing and the ever increasing potential that is represented, it would be interesting to examine the role that 3D printing can playing in idea and solution conception development. Second, there is an emerging role for 3D printing as part of an integrated component of an AR or VR configuration. The Microsoft HoloLens site (https://www.microsoft.com/microsoft-hololens/en-us) definitely alludes to this connection and it is a natural extension of the user experience to be able to create an item, alone or collaboratively, and then have the ability to route that object from within the artificial environment to a 3D printing output to bring it into the real world. We are limiting the potential of this technology by not looking at it from a big picture perspective. - Dougdar Dougdar Oct 20, 2015
  • There are a variety of approaches to rapid prototyping that could include cardboard and string as easily as a Makerbot. The two aren't really synonymous as the opening sentence suggests. Sadly, most current 3D printing models are anything but rapid, limiting their value as iterative design tools but that should change in next year or two. A forward-looking version of this section might focus on the next gen of 3D printing technologies, help people look down the road beyond consumer devices available today. - dicksonk dicksonk Oct 21, 2015

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

  • This is a tool that wonderfully supports learning by doing and creates another way for learners to engage in prototyping as part of their overall learning experience. It very much works in tandem with Makerspaces (as a resource within those learning spaces) to foster creativity in learning and to prepare learners for workplaces where creativity and prototyping are integral and much-valued aspects of our workplaces.- paul.signorelli paul.signorelli Oct 14, 2015 - JoanLippincott JoanLippincott Oct 17, 2015
  • Visualization, plus student creativity.- bryan.alexander bryan.alexander Oct 1, 2015 - JoanLippincott JoanLippincott Oct 17, 2015
  • This technology has the potential to provide innovation within many disciplines. Specifically engineering, where manufacturing components only possible through this method can be studied and developed, and sciences, where visualizing structures through modeling is of value for everything from DNA, to proteins and molecules, and down to subatomic structures within physics. There is also extensive potential for architecture, art, design, history, even culinary and many other areas. The ability to recreate an object from antiquity is powerful as it gives a student a chance for a hands-on encounter, and for expression, the number of materials and the nature of production provide a channel that is somewhere between the canvas and the sculpture. The ability to manifest something with relative ease and direct simplicity opens new doors for learning and creativity, - Dougdar Dougdar Oct 20, 2015

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

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