3D printing in the classroom

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Brian Price was pleasantly surprised when he joined Gower College Swansea as engineering lecturer to find that its Design Technology (DT) department still had a traditional engineering workshop complete with Colchesters, Bridgeports, Jones and Shipmans.

Ultimaker wants to bring 3D printing to schools and make it both affordable and accessible for all

“It’s the type of workshop that, unfortunately, many colleges disposed of, as they rushed towards supporting the service industry. So, what we have is a real jewel that if it had to be set up at today’s prices, I would be frightened to guess how much it would cost.”

Alongside these traditional machines and various hand tools, the College has also invested in newer machines including a Denford CNC router, mill and vinyl cutter as well as computers running CAD (AutoCAD Inventor and Mechanical) and CAM software. The most recent addition has been a CubeX desktop 3D printer from 3D Systems.

“This recent purchase has proved to be a pivotal piece of equipment. It has inspired, excited and motivated the students to use a whole range of manufacturing techniques to support the work being produced on the 3D printer,” comments Price.

Similarly, at Westbury School, a special school in Nottingham for pupils aged between 7 and 16, teacher Rebecca Ramage says that the 3D printer is also a popular addition to the DT department.


In fact, it has two – an UP! from Denford, a provider of CAD/CAM solutions and projects specifically for education, and a Makerbot.

“We have found the Makerbot to be a lot more reliable and better for doing larger models,” says Ramage.

“We use both SolidWorks and PTC Creo for designing objects to be printed on these machines, which gives students the chance to perfect their designing and measuring skills. Some of the students really enjoy using this software and some find it very difficult,” she adds.

Objects printed on the two machines range from a recent project to design USB holders to even replacing a broken light fitting in the DT department. It’s also been used to print award winning Scalextric cars for last year’s ‘Scalextric 4 Schools’ competition, a PTC initiative that challenges middle and high school children to design, make and race their own Scalextric cars.

Westbury students designed their cars in SolidWorks and printed their models on the UP! These models were then raced round a circuit and a presentation given to the judges showing the process involved in creating their designs. The students enjoyed the experience so much that they have entered again this year.

But it’s far from the case that all school DT departments have a 3D printer on site. As Richard Cave, assistant headteacher of Hitchin Girls’ School in Hertfordshire, says

“We use Autodesk Inventor and teach it from Yr7 [ages 11 to 13]. Although we don’t have a 3D printer, we do use an Autodesk plug-in that allows output as flat interlocking templates to a laser cutter. We’ve found this to be very successful – fast, simple and reliable.

“At the moment the Yr7s are building model siege engines, catapults and balistas! Enormous fun.”

Although, the school does not have any plans to get a 3D printer at the moment, Cave says they are looking to build STEM links with other schools, which would offer a way for the students to be exposed to 3D printing technology.

3D printer in every school

However, there is an education initiative that has come hot on the heels of MakerBot’s mission statement of getting a 3D printer in every school in the US and that is Ultimaker GB who wants to do similar in the UK with its CREATE education project.

Ultimaker is a Dutch-based company founded in 2011 that is developing open source 3D printers. As part of its quest to share open source 3D printing with everybody, it has launched the CREATE project with the aim of offering every school student the opportunity to engage in the learning and development of this technology.

A 3D printed Scalextric car students at Westbury School created on the UP!

“The CREATE education project is how we see education benefiting the most from 3D printing. We are giving teachers free support and ideas so everyone can play an active role in the next industrial revolution,” says Paul Croft, Ultimaker GB director.

It has already been working with a number of UK schools and received some positive feedback. For instance, from Joan Hamblett, curriculum leader for DT at Parklands High School, who says:

“The pupils are amazed at how they can see an object they’ve designed appearing before them within minutes. We’ve already incorporated the Ultimaker 2 into our Yr8, Yr10 projects and Yr11 GCSE work.

“The DT department is planning some Career and Personal Development for other staff too to show how it could be used cross curricular to benefit the whole school and not just our department.”

Ultimaker is currently seeking 50 schools across the country to be appointed as 3D Hubs to help make 3D printing accessible to everyone. For more info visit: createeducation.co.uk

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