When I first used a 3D printer in 2005, Stratasys and 3D Systems were the only players in town and the costs of their systems were truly eye-watering. The Stratasys Dimension BST we used then cost over £19,000 and reels of filament over £200 each.
In the decade since, key 3D printing patents held by those once pioneering manufacturers have expired and the open source RepRap project has triggered a wave of desktop 3D printer innovations. The cost of 3D printing technologies has now plummeted (Robox costs less than £1,000 with reels of filament under £30 each) at the same time as we’ve seen significant advances in speed and capabilities – thanks also in part to the recent proliferation of very high quality, but totally free, 3D modelling tools. The technology has become much simpler, more affordable and therefore more accessible to everyone.
3D printers are fast becoming staples of secondary school D&T departments. Our work with the James Dyson Foundation is seeing us develop some truly exciting and innovative STEM programmes aimed at encouraging students and teachers to use 3D printers and inspiring them to think creatively about design and technology. While our work has initially focused on programmes in secondary schools, our efforts to help stimulate young people are now leading us to help develop new programmes with partner schools at even earlier stages in the education curriculum.
One exciting programme is being pioneered by Josh Rigby, D&T Leader at Blackfield Primary School, part of the Inspire Learning Federation. His Year 6 ‘Lift Off’ project is now in its second year and engages pupils to develop and build remote controlled hovercraft. They use Robox and free 3D modelling tools from Autodesk such as Tinkercad and 123D Design to customise their hovercrafts for identified target audiences.
Another project he leads, titled ‘Dyson Design,’ engages Year 4 pupils in the design of modern desktop equipment for the classroom of the future. The project helps 8-year-old pupils get to grips with technical drawings and requires them to consider a range of materials for their designs, which are then developed in Tinkercad.
We’re also helping to introduce 3D printing to a pioneering, ambitious education project targeting primary age children in Scotland. Martyn Hendry, STEM Co-ordinator in East Ayrshire Council, has just completed a Robox pilot programme in a number of primary schools in his authority to see how 3D printers can be introduced into the curriculum. Working with projects he’s developed to inspire creative thinking, and supported by entrepreneurs and people from industry, teachers have reported a very enthusiastic response from pupils. One school has even broadened the project to the Primary 2 year group of 6-year-olds.
Martyn is helping to ensure Robox plays its part in the Scottish government’s youth employment strategy, Developing the Young Workforce (DYW) – a seven-year programme that aims to better prepare children and young people from 3-18 for the world of work. The success of the Robox pilot programme and Scottish government programmes such as DYW herald the beginning of a much more ambitious rollout of 3D printers to schools and organisations in the region.
Dumfries House Education, a cluster of six bespoke training centres situated in the stunning 18th century Ayrshire Dumfries House estate, is one such organisation using Robox to help deliver experiential, hands-on activities for young people. The centres offer a selection of education and training programmes designed to support learners in Primary and Secondary education with the Engineering Education Centre’s aim being to excite young people about science and technology. Dumfries House Education grew from HRH the Prince of Wales’ desire to see young people engage in learning experiences that promote confidence, personal development and offer training in real life skills. Their inspirational workshops are available to schools, youth groups and local authorities in the region and Martyn is actively involved helping to integrate 3D printing into their programmes.
Robox is providing schools with a more cost-effective, straightforward option to bring 3D printing to classrooms and workshops around the UK. As a British 3D printer manufacturer making the world’s only desktop 3D printer with an interlocking safety door, we are uniquely placed to work with the James Dyson Foundation and schools across the country to help improve learning outcomes and empower teachers and schoolchildren to invent, to think creatively about design and technology and not be afraid to make mistakes. Martyn Hendry reports how 3D printers and computer-aided design (CAD) software have helped children as young as 9 understand mathematical concepts such as negative numbers: “There was just no justification for using CAD without a 3D printer. 3D printers embed the technical drawing while the teaching and learning is embedded in the use of CAD.”