3D Printing: Flashy or Functional?

bigstock-Electronic-D-Plastic-Printer--51976807Many articles and blogs have mentioned 3D printing when it comes to the future of education technology, but just how important will this device be and how beneficial is it in the classroom? Today I’m going to take a closer look at this device and see if it’s just a new and flashy gadget without real longevity and practicality, or if it really is going to make a large contribution to the world of education.

For those of you who have never heard of it, 3D printing is the process of making three-dimensional objects from a digital blueprint. The machine creates an object by putting down successive layers of material, such as plastic, bio-material, and food using digital codes that are scanned or designed.

3D printing seems like a new phenomenon, but it actually started in the mid-1980s as a way to make prototypes in industrial settings. Now this device has become commercially available, however it is still not easily affordable to the average American.

3D printing is mainly being used in four different areas: individual homes for pleasure or practical use, businesses for the design and production of new products, medical and mechanical institutions for research and development, and education for teaching students in the classroom.

For in-the-home use, a person can walk into the store “Maker Bot” in Manhattan and purchase a 3D printer for a price between $1,375-6,499. More than 15,000 have been sold since this company’s inception. Larger and more complex machines are far more pricy.

bigstock-Extraordinary-Geometric-Solid--51779587But there are other ways of making objects using one of these printers if you can’t afford one yourself. The company Shapeways offers a service where anyone can buy or create an object made by a 3D printer online. This past Christmas companies advertised “print your gift” on commercial websites.

To the average individual, 3D printing is an interesting and fascinating technology that kind of reminds you of Star Trek. Purchasing one for home use may be driven by curiosity and excitement, but not real necessity.

However, in business, 3D printing is becoming an incredibly useful aid for companies and is transforming the marketplace and the manufacturing industry. A young designer hoping to establish a brand can design and create products easily with a 3D printer without jumping through the hoops of finding a manufacturer. Aside from the individual, Maker Bot’s most common customers come from the aerospace, architecture, automotive, defense, entertainment, and medical industries. Continue reading