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Engaging Students is Key

June 22, 2008

Filed under: additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE,education — Terry Wohlers @ 13:35

The U.S. has dropped to tenth place worldwide in high school completion, according to the September 2007 issue of Manufacturing Engineering. In 2004, the average annual income for a high school drop out was about $16,500, compared to more than $26,000 for a graduate.

What can be done to reduce the problem? One idea is to offer more opportunities for hands-on activities that engage students. Some kids do not take well to textbooks and lectures. A number of these same students excel with the right conditions. In the May 22 issue of Machine Design, editor Leland Teschler explained that a kid with a 1.9 GPA became a 4.0 student when he began to apply concepts in hands-on courses.

Teschler went on to discuss Project Lead the Way (PLTW), a program that introduces middle and high school students to applied engineering concepts. One PLTW instructor explained that kids have fun because they don’t know they are learning physics, Teschler said. The hands-on, project and problem-based approach adds rigor to technical programs and relevance to traditional academics, the PLTW website states. The Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) Education Foundation has partnered with PLTW.

PLTW educators are typically former industrial arts/education instructors and many of them now teach CAD. Some of them are beginning to bring additive fabrication (AF) and 3D printing into their courses, which is a perfect fit. The kids develop skills in conceptual design, modeling, and experimentation and then “print” their work in 3D, giving them a chance to touch, evaluate, and test their designs.

I hope that schools throughout the U.S. adopt AF. It will allow kids that are academically challenged a chance to shine in an area that has a bright future. If it does not lead to an engineering degree, that’s okay. Rewarding careers in AF do not require a four-year engineering degree. Examples are operating AF equipment or finishing parts, selling or servicing AF machines, CAD software, or laser scanning systems, or serving as a sales agent for a service provider. What’s more, these are financially and professionally gratifying positions that are important to the future of the U.S.

Home Manufacturing in the Future

June 8, 2008

Filed under: additive manufacturing,future,manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 07:23

Many years ago, at least one person predicted the use of additive fabrication (AF) to “3D print” household items. If the bread toaster breaks, a new one—or part of one—would be created on the home 3D printer. The convenience and speed would make it compelling.

I disagreed then and I do now. If the toaster breaks, a new one is purchased for $15–20. Even if a person or family owns or has access to a 3D printer, the system would probably not accommodate the type of material needed for the replacement part(s). Also, 3D model data, needed to drive the system, would need to be created or downloaded. This would not be impossible, but few consumers would want to mess with it.

I do believe that home manufacturing will develop in the future and feel more strongly about it now than ever. People that manufacture at home, however, will serve as “providers” that sell to others, primarily on the web. Individuals will see it as a low-risk, low-overhead business opportunity to manufacture from their basement, spare room, garage, or dorm room. They will discover a niche market and serve this market from their home. A few are already doing it.

Case in point: Fabjectory is a one-person company that has been producing models from Second Life, Google SketchUp, and Nintendo Mii for some time. The price for a color model from Fabjectory is typically $50–200. The home-based operation has been written up in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The New York Times, Wired, and other major publications. I am also aware of others here in the U.S. and abroad that are offering part-making services from the comfort of their homes.

The market opportunities are vast. Among them are the production of individualized video game characters, sculptures, corporate gifts, figurines, ornaments, lighting designs, custom furniture, wall hangings, and other home and personal accessories. Add it up and you’re looking at markets that total billions of dollars.

So, don’t be surprised when you begin to see small, specialized manufacturers popping up everywhere. At first, it may appear as though they are operating from a regular business or store front. Upon closer examination, you will find that they are small operations located in homes. And, they will be the manufacturer of the future.