Kim was reading the Facebook page for one of our local tv stations, and they were reporting a local story where some junior and high schools were getting 3D printers for the kids. The printers were quite reasonable at $1600 each, and they were getting about $20k worth of them to spread around the district. I’m not a Facebook kind of guy, but I do have an account that I rarely use. In this situation, I decided to break my Facebook silence and weigh in on the topic.
I’ve got an opinion on this matter for two reasons. First, 3D print is a great way to get kids interested in engineering, design, and manufacturing, which I do believe we (meaning the US in this case) sorely need. Second, I’m an author of sorts, and an engineer who creates. When people steal intellectual property, it’s often people like me who are being stolen from. Kids are already challenged when it comes to ownership and entitlement issues, and I just thought this was a great opportunity to illustrate what I think are valuable lessons.
My comment on the issue centered around the idea that I thought kids needed to have exposure and access to 3D CAD software before they start playing with 3D printers. Access to CAD needs to come before access to printers for a couple of reasons. First, that’s the way it happens in real life. You design, you print. Second, if they aren’t making something to print, they are downloading something to print. I’m not saying download => print is not a valid thing to do, it just has very limited educational value, and it helps instill the idea that “creative stuff” (music, books, pictures, 3D CAD models) are things of no value that you shouldn’t bother making for yourself because you can get them for free just by taking them. We’ve already released a generation of students who don’t understand the difference between “yours” and “mine” when it comes to intellectual property. Let’s not perpetuate society failing its children in this way for another generation. If they can design something themselves and print it, it’s far more interesting than just printing something someone else has made.
If this is just about printing downloaded stuff, they’ll get bored with it rapidly.
Design is the real value here, because it opens up your imagination, which is the holy grail when you’re teaching kids that get distracted easily. Linking the physical print to their creative activity really helps send a more complete and more powerful message.
From there the kids have more lessons to learn such as materials, why you can’t make parts that would require starting to print in mid-air, why this isn’t a mass production method, and patience. Hopefully they will also learn that additive building has been available for over 20 years, and there are a number of similar processes that use different energy sources and materials.
Technology on its own just turns into temporary entertainment. Telling the story of how to create something useful and/or beautiful from your own mind is where the real value is for future engineers, designers, and manufacturers.