In the decades since it was unveiled, 3D printing and the technologies related to it have evolved immensely. Strides continue to be made with 3D printers, which makes using the technology more and more advantageous to a wide variety of people. Knowing this, a variety of groups are attempting to bring the technology to users of tomorrow: today’s kids. To discuss how 3D printing is being brought to the American youth and the impact that it will have, Product Design & Development held a question and answer session with John Hornick, author of the recently published book 3D Printing Will Rock the World.

PD&D: What group do you believe has been the biggest proponents of assimilating more 3D printers into schools? Is it the teachers, administrators, parents, or is it those directly involved with the 3D printing and scanning industry?

Hornick: It is primarily the makers of consumer-grade 3D printer makers.  Companies like MakerBot and AirWolf have programs to donate machines to schools, or to provide them at a discount.  The second biggest proponents are probably teachers and maybe administrators. Parents, not so much, yet. But once they see that 3D printers in schools can teach kids valuable skills for future jobs, and can be used to teach STEAM education as well, they will be insisting that kids have them at school and at home.

MakerBot launched the MakerBot Academy to put a MakerBot 3D printer in every American high school. For colleges, MakerBot launched MakerBot Innovation Centers. The first center, at the State University of New York at New Palz, is making more than 30 3D printers available for free use by students and faculty.

PD&D: Would it be advantageous to implement these technologies into the curriculum when the children are near the beginning of their educational career? Is there an age where the students are too young to begin working with the technology?

Hornick: Ed Morris, the Director of America Makes, says that we need to teach 3D printing to people “K through Gray.” I totally agree. Of course you need a really safe printer for really young kids, like the Printeer. As long as it’s safe, I don’t think there is a minimum age. It depends on the kid.

PD&D: In your estimation, how much of a curriculum can you build around 3D printing and scanning? Could you create several classes potentially devoted to the technology?

Hornick: Yes. You could build a program for each grade, teaching machines, processes, materials, and scanning. Because there are many types of 3D printers and many levels of machines, curricula could teach the technology progressively over the span of their entire education, outfitting kids to work in digital manufacturing.

PD&D: What types of classes does 3D printing and scanning technology fit in with the most?

Hornick: It fits into all types of classes. Some teachers use 3D printers to teach 3D printing.  Others use them to teach STEAM education. 

PD&D: We all know that children learn in different ways. Is this technology more appropriate for the kids that learn best from “hands on” experiences, or are there several different applications for this technology as it pertains to differing learning strengths?

Hornick: I believe all kids learn better from hands-on experience. But 3D printers can be used to teach both simple and complex ideas because they can print out simple or complex things. 

PD&D: How would 3D tools specifically help students with diagnosed learning disabilities?

Hornick: I am not an expert on teaching kids with learning disabilities, but I feel confident saying that 3D printers are powerful teaching machines. 

PD&D: What types of schools will be the first to feature 3D printers with regularity?

Hornick: Whichever schools have the vision and the budget, or are lucky enough to receive financial support to acquire them. Based on programs I have seen, I believe they will go first to public schools and libraries. 

PD&D: How much training must the teachers go through before these courses are taught?           

Hornick: They need to learn how to use the machines and the software. But consumer machines are made to be easy to use. They will get easier and easier to use over time.

PD&D: How long do you expect it will take before the majority of America’s public schools feature 3D printers and scanners?

Hornick: About five to seven years.

PD&D: Any idea how much it will cost to make these technologies a staple of American education?

Hornick: This is very difficult to say. It depends on how many machines are placed in each school, and the sophistication of the machines. Consumer-grade 3D printers range in price from a few hundred dollars to about $5,000. Some schools may even have industrial 3D printers, which range in price from $5,000 to $5 million. There are also programs available to donate the machines, or to provide money to buy machines.

PD&D: Any final thoughts?

Hornick: Kids are just starting to use simple, inexpensive, consumer-grade 3D printers today. They are the early adopters, and machines that are good enough today will become better and better, faster and faster, and capable of making more and more things.

Kids will not only grow up with the technology, the technology will grow up with the kids because they will contribute to its advancement. Today’s young innovators will 3D print our future. To some extent they will learn by using their own machines, teaching themselves, and improving the machines as they go. But they will also need access to advanced machines, processes, and materials. Schools and governments are beginning to pave the roads that kids will follow, from printing toys at home today to making high-tech parts and products in the factories of tomorrow.