What is 3D Printing?

Also known as rapid prototyping, 3D printing refers to technologies that construct physical objects from three-dimensional (3D) digital content such as computer aided design (CAD), computer aided tomography (CAT), and X-ray crystallography. A 3D printer builds a tangible model or prototype from the file, one layer at a time, using an inkjet-like process to spray a bonding agent onto a very thin layer of fixable powder. The bonding agent can be applied very accurately to build an object from the bottom up, layer by layer. The process even accommodates moving parts within the object. Using different powders and bonding agents, color can be applied, and prototype parts can be rendered in plastic, resin, or metal. This technology is commonly used in manufacturing to build prototypes of almost any object (scaled to fit the printer, of course) — models, plastic and metal parts, or any object that can be described in three dimensions.

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(1) How might this technology be relevant to the educational sector you know best?

  • In the learning of physics, the visualisation of complex concepts can be aided by 3D representations. This can potentially help to achieve an earlier understanding. Probably applies to other areas of science as well. - horncheah horncheah Feb 4, 2010
  • 3D printing, as prices continue to fall, could become an increasingly integral tool in science education, and as an adjunct to art classes that allow space for computer-generated or -modeled art. It will be especially relevant and important in rural education settings, where access to physical education resources is much more difficult than in urban or peri-urban settings. - michael.trucano michael.trucano Feb 8, 2010
  • I'd expect that this technology could be useful in mathematical investigations, whether that be length, volume, space and shapes. - garry.putland garry.putland Feb 8, 2010

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • Might be useful to tie in 3D printing with collaboration tools (eg. wiki-like tools) to allow for co-creation of 3D models and representation. - horncheah horncheah Feb 4, 2010
  • The potential for #D printing to support and inform entrepreneurial education (i.e. the development of young entrepreneurs) is pretty great, because it allows for rapid prototyping. - michael.trucano michael.trucano

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on teaching, learning, or creative expression?

  • Can potentially provide for greater constructivist learning.- horncheah horncheah Feb 4, 2010
  • There is potentially a profound impact here, especially in the ability to iterate ideas by bridging the abstract (theory, 'what is in the textbook') with the concrete. - michael.trucano michael.trucano Feb 8, 2010
  • 3D printing provides a visual and tactile way of 'seeing' objects - which 3D virtual environments cannot provide. This is particularly important for various disabilities, for relational understanding of solid objects and more. 3D printing provides a responsive way of addressing the need for solid objects - where previously it would have required a manufacturing process. - judy.oconnell judy.oconnell Feb 9, 2010

(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

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