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Schools are Best Equipped to Educate

July 10, 2004

Filed under: education — Terry Wohlers @ 15:09

It’s taken time, but educational institutions are beginning to reach large audiences with information on rapid prototyping (RP). Later this month, Saddleback College will host 50 educators for a week, the second year in which the college has brought together instructors for the purpose of RP education and hands-on training. These instructors will be given the opportunity to run RP machines and finish models and prototype parts that were produced on these machines. Each of them will take away what they learn and share it with others, including hundreds students. The effort by Saddleback College is being supported by the National Science Foundation and sponsored by companies such as Extrude Hone ProMetal, Hester Studios, Materialise, Solidworks, Sony, Stratasys, 3D Systems, and Z Corp.

In February 2004, the University of Arizona hosted a one-day conference on 3D printing and rapid prototyping. Among the exhibitors were Cubic Technologies, Gentle Giant Studios, IBM, On-Demand Manufacturing (a Boeing subsidiary), PTC, Raytheon, 3D Systems, and Z Corp. The most exciting part, however, was that 500 middle school students and 175 high school students attended the program. That’s right: hundreds of 12-18 year olds. These kids are now aware of what RP and related technologies have to offer and are the future buyers of RP products and services. In all, nearly 1,100 people attended the conference.

The manufacturers of RP products are beginning to understand that they cannot shoulder the entire burden of creating awareness of their companies and products. In the past, many of them have been reluctant to support secondary and postsecondary education, in part because they viewed it as an investment that would not yield sales results for many years. Now, they are beginning to understand that they have little choice but to support formal education if they expect the RP industry to expand beyond where it is today. To educators: I urge you to offer (or continue to offer) programs that impact large numbers. And to vendors: Support them because your future depends on it.