28 February 2012
Process type: Design
If the speed of advancing software and technology impresses you, then you’re too busy thinking about it; Stephen Holmes finds the next generation of school kids slicing through CAD like any other digital device
Thinking back to your own initiation into the world of 3D design tools it’s likely you were of an age of (presumed) maturity.
So take into account the rapid pace with which technology is moving and, importantly, the speed with which it’s being adopted, and you’ll realise that the youngest generation is powering through 3D CAD tools with a nonchalance you couldn’t find in any major design company.
This isn’t to say they couldn’t care less. Of the 15 or so students at Edinburgh’s St Augustine’s High School coaxed into spending their break-time (on a charity fancydress day no less) lackadaisically showing off some of their projects, all demonstrated a whirlwind understanding of the software.
At the heart of it, St Augustine’s is one of the beta testers for PTC’s latest schools version of its Creo software, launching fully across the UK from the start of this year.
The students have only just got their hands on Creo and are already manoeuvring around it with relative ease, despite the different user interface compared to Pro/Engineer, which they had been using before.
Although the school introduces students to product design using traditional design skills (sketching and accurate 2D profile creations are still valued methods for bringing about and developing concepts), the final project involves the class using creative skills to design and model a product of their choosing.
This end task earns 50 per cent of the final grade, and it’s easy to see why the class is top of its league in Scotland, with students happily working away on projects as diverse as bicycles and pizza cutters.
The 3D models are not simply limited to surface models; some have basic engineering worked into moving parts. Teachers at the school have previously gone out of their way to borrow a 3D printer to show exportation as SLA files, taking the theory into reality, and generally making the most of youthful creativity.
“We looked at case design for torches,” says one of St Augustine’s genuinely committed Craft Design and Technology (CDT) teachers, James Collin.
“We printed one out just to show them the process. It was good to show them the transition between the model and real thing.”
Speaking to the students, all of whom had worked with Pro/E previously, it was interesting to hear how they were adapting to the new software, the new layout, interface and finding stuff they needed in the tabs; what they thought was better about it, what they had niggles about.
It was just like any other design office; but one guy was dressed as a cowboy. The teaching staff are, by their own admission, not from solid design backgrounds, in fact most of what they have learned has arrived through their own enthusiasm to learn the subject and software themselves.
Live and learn
The schools package of Creo is identical to that which a professional uses, and importantly, so are the support and training videos that not only allow the teaching staff to self tutor themselves, but also let students of an inquisitive nature take off past the set curriculum and explore 3D design as and how they wish.
With a USB stick, the students can take their work wherever they go, and it reduces the need for schools to invest in expensive storage for all the new CAD models.
However, they also have a similar stick with which they can transfer the school’s Creo license to their home computers.
It sounds a bit daring in a world that’s currently being cloaked by an argument over digital piracy and copyright issues, but PTC and the school keep firm tabs on the license, and it allows students wishing to pursue the topic further to do so in their own time.
Clearly that’s the emphasis from PTC: to get its product into the hands of as many people as early as possible. Yet with the ability of the next generation to adopt new technology so quickly, surely this is proof of an exciting future for design and the accelerated advancement of the tools demanded by designers?