3D Printing

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You may remember I’m involved in a primary school 3D printing project. We have come some way with this recently. We held a competition for schools to submit ‘Dragons’ Den’ pitches to have a printer located at their school. We have decided upon a printer, the Bits from Bytes ‘3D Touch’ and had it delivered to the winning school – Birkenshaw Primary School.

On 9th July, we had an afternoon at the school working with some Year 4 children. We were lucky to be joined by a key member of our project team, Dejan Mitrovic from the Royal College of Art. Dejan is a design specialist who also has considerable experience and expertise in the use of 3D Printing. He is responsible for Kide™ and Kideville ™, concepts that have led to young people engaging with 3D printing in exciting and innovative ways through hands-on approaches in a variety of contexts, from exhibitions at galleries (such as the V&A) and trade-fairs to primary school classrooms. roulette uk



Dejan came to Birkenshaw with a well-structured, punchy afternoon of activity for the children to get stuck into. Recognising the need for learning to be relevant, he themed the afternoon around the design of a (Olympic) stadium. Initially Dejan talked about form and function and shared numerous examples of stadia from around the world. He then introduced a paper-based activity in which the children were asked to design their own stadium (in pairs). They were asked to do ‘front’, ‘side’ and ‘top’ views of their stadium as well as having a go at a 3D view. It was fascinating to see the children’s differing approaches and the diversity in creativity and technical ability.



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We then moved to computer-based design and the children were introduced to 3Dtin  – browser-based 3D design software. I love 3Dtin. It is intuitive and straightforward and children could get going straight away (it also has an interesting ‘social’ element). Having said that, they did experience varying degrees of success with regards to producing a finished design for a stadium. I think this was essentially down to time – there simply wasn’t long enough for them to tackle some new software and apply that to the project.


As with any unfamiliar medium – whether it is clay, paint, a musical instrument or software, I am a real advocate of allowing space to ‘play and learn’ before applying that knowledge in context. Despite this, a number of children did produce designs suitable for printing. A quick vote decided a winning design to be ‘printed’ there and then.

The 3Dtin software allows for files to be exported in a format (STL) that can be understood by the printer and so it is a relatively simple process (via a USB memory stick) to get a file printing (an object emerges incrementally through the extrusion of a line of 0.25mm molten plastic). The printing process itself is mesmerising and children and adults alike find the emergence of an object a hypnotic experience.

The end result was a great little ‘stadium’.

AM. The Future?

I was recently invited to attend the ‘Additive Manufacturing Sandpit event’ at Loughborough University that took place on Wednesday 6th July. “What on earth is ‘Additive Manufacturing (AM)’?” I hear you cry and I have to admit I was initially a little unsure of what to expect. AM is also known as ‘3D printing’ and is a way to make stuff by adding very thin layers of polymers, metals or ceramics. This is generally done in liquid, powder or sheet form. So you can ‘print’ things. Things that have previously been designed on a computer (using CAD software). Here’s one:

And here’s a video clip of a printer in action:

I was so ignorant of this technology that I wanted to know at least a little more prior to the event. An enquiry on Twitter and a bit of googling led me to Dave White, a teacher doing some amazing things and blogging about it here. I also came across this amazing use of a printer. And why not ‘print’ your own chocolates?

The day started with three presentations.
We heard from Denise Stephens (of Enabled by Design) describing the challenges that she and fellow MS sufferers encounter. The lack of any design innovation in assistive technology in the last 40 years was driven home to me as Denise shared some truly disheartening images of AT such as crutches, stools, ‘walkers’ etc. They all looked like something out of a 1950s hospital with their sterile, beige features. Why can’t designers consider everyone’s needs? Needs that could be met with relative simplicity, as they are with the Breville Hotcup dispensing kettle for instance (removing the risk of a boiling water spillage).

We heard from Andrew Haslett, Director of Strategy Development at The Energy Technology Institute. Frankly, I was left depressed. In brief, there is a major energy crisis emerging and new and urgent approaches are required (no real surprise, I suppose). Oh, and what’s more, our feeble efforts at a domestic/local level are but drops in an immense ocean. Ok, this is perhaps somewhat gloomier than Andrew’s intended message, but rosy it ain’t. top 10 casino canada

Finally, we were treated to a presentation by Mike Sharples, an education guru from The University of Nottingham. Mike’s message was refreshing and optimistic in tone. Amongst other things, he lamented the demise of bricolage or ‘tinkering’ in learning. This really resonated with me as someone that is a passionate believer in the power of this approach to learning and it reminded me of my favourite TED talk by founder of ‘The Tinkering School’, Gever Tulley. I could see immediately how AM technology might be one possible route to the resurrection of tinkering. Mike also cited John Dewey, an advocate of constructivist, hands-on experiential learning.

The rest of the day was then spent ‘sand-pitting’. In groups of varying sizes and demographics, we discussed AM with a view to proposing a project that may be chosen to receive £5000 backing. The project/proposal could have a social, energy, assistive technology or education focus.

My group developed a proposal that would involve installing a printer in a primary school, a ‘Dragons’ Den’ activity and a Design Technology project to produce relevant, valuable, useful artefacts. The school in question would become a ‘hub’ for good practice in this technology. We weren’t sure whether there is a primary school in the UK with such a technology, but we were all convinced of the value it could bring.

So what might a school get out of this? Well, it would certainly reinvigorate a Design Technology curriculum. The sheer rapidity of the process of design/manufacture to artifact is exciting and easily allows for multiple iterations. This is where tweaking and tinkering can be exploited. Imagine the possibilities for DT projects: cups/containers, mobile phone cases, stands for MP3 players, jewelry, ornaments, action figures etc.  Children will certainly come up with endless suggestions for projects. Dejan Mitrovic has a portable printer that he has taken into a school where the children each designed there own building in Google Sketchup before they printed the class ‘town’.

Prices for this technology are tumbling and it is becoming ever more accessible. Once upon a time, the first computers appeared in UK schools and opened up a world of programming to a generation of youngsters. The UK is now a world leader in the computer games industry. Coincidence?

Who knows, the Christmas Present of the near future might be a personal 3-D printer. Print your own Lego pieces, Christmas tree decorations, earrings, jewelry, parts for the broken washing machine. Or, if you don’t have one at home, send your designs off to the local community printer and have them produced for you there.

My eyes have certainly been opened!