3D printing is a process through which one can convert digital files/models into three-dimensional physical objects. 3D printers do this by joining successive layers of material. Because of this, some people also refer to 3D printing as additive manufacturing.
While many people think of 3D printing as a new technology, its history dates back to the early 1980s. Nonetheless, the popularity of 3D printing is rising. In 2013 for example, analysts estimated that the global 3D industry was worth $3.07 billion. By 2016, the value of the global 3D printing industry had grown to an estimated $7.9 billion. Analysts project that by 2022, the 3D printing industry may be worth $33.58 billion.
Today, one of the areas in which 3D printing is making a mark is education; from primary to university level. 3D printing is particularly useful in the STEM subjects; science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Subsequently, there is a growing demand for quality educational 3D printing resources and material. Below is a listing of some quality printing resources for use within the education sector.
1. Stratasys/Makerbot/ Thingiverse Education (Free)
MakerBot is an American manufacturer of 3D printers. The company is a subsidiary of Stratasys which describes itself as a global leader in 3D printing. On the other hand, Thingiverse is a Makerbot owned online 3D community.
Both Stratasys and Makerbot provide several educational 3D printing resources on their websites. These resources cut across all education levels right from kindergarten to higher education.
However, it is on Thingiverse that students and teachers alike can benefit most from 3D printing resources. Thingiverse Education includes some key features;
Thingiverse consists of a large online community of at least 2 million 3D printing enthusiasts. Members can share 3D printing designs and ideas, discuss and learn new things. There are also groups for those who share common interests in 3D printing.
Millions of 3D Designs
The website also includes a library of at least 1.6 million printable 3D designs. Students and teachers can download this for use in their projects.
Growing Collection of 3D Printing Applications
These applications are supposed to enhance the 3D printing experience of students and teachers. For example, 3DSlash is an application that allows one to add special details to their 3D designs. On the other hand, 3D hubs allow those who do not have 3D printers to order and ship 3D prints.
Another app is MakePrintable which enables users to correct any imperfections in their designs before printing. A fourth application, Thingiverse Customizer, allows users to customize existing 3D designs.
Educational Projects, Lessons and Classroom Tutorials
Most importantly for students and teachers, there are at least 100 free 3D printing lessons, projects, tutorials and challenges on Thingiverse. This span across different subjects including STEM subjects as well as history, art, language and special education. Thingiverse also classifies projects by grade; K-5, 6-8, 9-12 and university level.
2. Tinkerine U (Free)
Tinkerine is a 3D printing resource specifically designed to promote 3D printing in education. Tinkerine U is also useful for experts, professionals and anyone else who wants to learn about 3D printing. It is also worth noting that the resources on Tinkerine U are focused on the STEM subjects. Students and teachers using Tinkerine U can expect the following features;
Here, students can learn the following essentials;
- Different 3D printing technologies
- Setting up and using 3D printers
- 3D modeling techniques and software
- 3D scanning technologies
On the other hand, teachers have access to professional development (PD) course. Here, they learn how to incorporate 3D modeling and printing in STEM classrooms.
Learners who complete the essential courses receive an essentials certification. Similarly, educators who complete the PD course get certified after creating a lesson plan.
PDFs and Videos on 3D Printing
Teachers have access to PDF resources and short video tutorials to help them in teaching 3D printing.
Tinkerine U also tries to enhance critical thinking and problem-solving skills through hands-on STEM challenges. There are three different levels of design challenges based on one’s expertise level;
- Starter challenges
- Intermediate challenges
- Advanced challenges
Members who created their own design challenges may share them within the Tinkerine U community.
Learners and educators also get to network, share and deliberate with other 3D printing enthusiasts.
3. Autodesk Education (Free)
Autodesk is an American company that makes software for a wide range of applications including 3D printing. The company believes that students and educators are the keys to solving the challenges of the future.
In this spirit, Autodesk provides students and educators with free online courses, 3D printing tutorials, and webinars. Apart from these, Autodesk also offers students and teachers with;
Autodesk has been at the forefront of making 3D printing software all of which are free for both students and educators. Below are some of the free education software products;
Fusion 360 is a cloud-based concept-to-production platform compatible with Macs and PCs. It allows users to explore 3D design ideas faster and easier.
- Inventor Professional is a computer-aided-design (CAD) software which lets users simulate 3D products before printing them.
- AutoCAD, Autodesk’s flagship software product, is a professional CAD software for both 2D and 3D products.
- Maya is a software that allows for 3D animation, 3D modeling, 3D simulation and 3D rendering. It is ideal for application in film, games, and TV.
Other software products include;
- Sketchbook for students
- Sketchbook for educational institutions
- Civil 3D
- FormIt Pro
The best thing about these products is that professionals in various industries also use them. Students and educators, therefore, get to learn using professional grade tools and software.
3D Design Competitions and Events
These are meant to enhance the skills and experience of learners. Students have access to different competitions and events from around the world. These include;
- Airgineers STEM challenge which is a competition targeting students who are 16 years and below. Students learn not only to design but also to fly their quadcopters.
- F1 in schools; a competition targeting students who are 19 years and below. Students compete on using Autodesk software to design faster and cooler futuristic F1 cars.
Students may create portfolios of their 3D printing ideas and designs. They can then share these with other members of the Autodesk student community. In addition to that, Autodesk also runs a student expert network.
Members of this network have opportunities to connect and share with fellow student experts. Student experts also get chances to network with professionals. Student experts who become Student Ambassadors may get access to exclusive events, projects, and training workshops.
Autodesk describes this program as a digital ecosystem. Within this system, students aged 13 and above display their skills and learn new things. Most notably, members of STEM premier stand the chance of earning scholarships and career opportunities.
These features make Autodesk one of the most comprehensive 3D printing resources for students and teachers.
4. Blokify Application (Paid)
This 3D printing resource is particularly ideal for young learners and novices. Users may build 3D block models either in free-form or with guidance. Users may then play with the resulting models virtually.
Alternatively, users may 3D print the models to play with them physically. Users who do not have their printers may order 3D prints of their designs through Blokify. Blokify then mails the 3D printed objects to the user.
What is Blokify? from Blokify on Vimeo.
In addition to that, Blokify also allows users to share 3D ideas and designs with other Blokify users. Learners may download the Blokify app from the iOS store. Similarly, Android users may download the app from the Google play store.
5. Sketchup (Free and Paid options)
This 3D printing software has gained a reputation for its simplicity, functionality and user-friendly interface. Sketchup for schools offers a wide range of 3D printing resources for students and teachers. Sketchup for schools is however limited to schools that sign up with G Suite for Education.
A significant advantage of Sketchup for schools is its integration with Google classroom and Google Drive. Additionally, it works on any computer that has an internet connection.
Sketchup for schools includes video tutorials for every level of primary and secondary school. For example;
- Turtle sandbox is for children in kindergarten to those in grade 5
- Pirate Ship Playhouse is ideal for learners from grade 6 to grade 8.
- Mike’s Malta Shop is for students in grades 9 to 12.
Sketchup Pro, on the other hand, is ideal for industry professionals and learners. However, unlike Sketchup for schools, Sketchup Pro is a paid product. Luckily for K-12 public schools, Sketchup offers educational grants to qualifying schools. The grants allow qualifying schools to access and use Sketchup Pro for free.
Additional 3D printing resources available on Sketchup include;
- Access to a huge library of free 3D models on 3D Warehouse.
- Forums where learners get to interact with experts and ask questions.
- Hundreds of Sketchup add-on tools to help users get around 3D modeling problems.
6. 3D Slash (Free and Paid options)
3D modeling is often challenging for those who are not designers and even those who are not good with computers. 3D Slash is a printing resource whose primary objective is to make 3D modeling easy even for kids and non-designers. In line with this, 3D Slash allows users to design 3D models using the concept of building-blocks. The software draws inspiration from Minecraft. It is available as a software download or as a web-based tool.
Users of 3D Slash need not have their printers. Instead, users can create and save 3D designs as STL (stereolithography) files. One may then print out these designs at a local library or university free of charge.
Source: 3D Slash
Those who find it tedious to create 3D designs from scratch may choose from at least 20,000 existing designs. One may also download existing designs from third-party sources such as Thingiverse.
Children between the age of 5 to 7 years old may use 3D Slash to design basic 3D shapes and create toys. The ease of using 3D Slash makes it an ideal printing resource for K-12 learners.
7. SeeMeCNC (Free and Paid Options)
SeeMeCNC is an American manufacturer of 3D printers. SeeMeCNC runs SeeMeEducate, an initiative which helps educators in incorporating 3D printing in classrooms. Through this initiative, educators get a relatively affordable package which includes;
- A 3D printer
- Customer support
- Online support forums/Community resources
- Email support
- Advice from teachers already using 3D printing in classrooms
To add on that, SeeMeCNC has also developed a curriculum of over 150 pages. This 3D printing resource allows teachers to teach 3D printing basics and more advanced 3D printing skills. The teachers do not have to spend extra time planning out a classroom curriculum.
8. Makers Empire (Free and Paid Options)
This 3D printing resource is suitable for teachers and K-8 students. However, while Makers Empire is available as freeware, the educational version is paid. Teachers learn how to use 3D printing to teach design and even STEM subjects.
To do this, the Makers Empire provides educators with;
- A 2-hour video series to help teachers learn more about 3D design and printing
- At least 130 different lesson plans for students. These lesson plans are as per American Common Core Standards and ISTE standards for Educators.
- A teacher’s dashboard to help educators manage their students and classrooms with greater ease.
- Certified professional development
Students using Makers Empire 3D, do not need prior experience in computing or CAD. No experience required implies that it is easy to design with Makers Empire 3D. Additionally, it is possible to adapt Makers Empire to individual student interests and abilities.
Makers Empire currently works with over 6,000 teachers and at least 300,000 students in Asia, Australia, Europe, and America. Moreover, users have created at least 2 million 3D designs with Makers Empire.
9. Dremel DigiLab (Free)
Dremel Digilab is also a good source of 3D printing resources. Below are some of the most notable offerings from Dremel Digilab;
Dremel Digilab offers teachers a wide range of standards-based lesson plans and curriculum. Teachers may choose lesson plans by education-level. There are lesson plans for elementary, middle school, high school, and even higher education levels.
Funding Assistance for Resources
Through its partnerships, Dremel Digilab also provides funding solutions to educators. For example, Dremel’s partnership with PledgeCents allows educators to raise funds easily. To add on that, Dremel has partnered with Donorchoose.com. Subsequently, students and educators can connect more easily with donors and realize their classroom projects.
A critical 3D printing resource for teachers is the 4-hour online professional development course. Teachers learn how to use 3D printing software and hardware to model and produce 3D objects using Dremel 3D printers. This PD course includes videos, school case studies and lesson plans among others. Upon completing the course, teachers receive Dremel certification.
While the nine sources of 3D printing resources listed are of high quality, they are not the only ones. There are many other websites and even books dedicated to helping students and teachers understand 3D printing. For example, YouTube is a rich source of 3D printing resources such as tutorials.