With all the interest in 3D printing of everything from a plastic meniscus for your knee to metal aerospace parts used in jet engines, there's a big push to educate young people in the technology and production methods. MakerBot, a subsidiary of Stratasys Ltd. (Rehvoot, Israel), claims to be leading the next industrial revolution by setting the standards in reliable and affordable desktop 3D printing. The company's goal has been to put a MakerBot 3D printer in every school in America, and make 3D printers as common place as computers in the classroom.
To that end, one of MakerBot's initiatives to bring 3D printing to the university setting is the MakerBot Innovation Center. From Florida Polytechnic University to SUNY New Paltz, a growing number of colleges and universities across the country are building MakerBot Innovation Centers to prepare their students for the jobs of the future. This month, a new MakerBot Innovation Center opened its doors at Xavier University in Cincinnati, OH, the first Midwestern school and the first private college to make this powerful 3D printing resource available to students.
While most equipment manufacturers are focused on breaking into new markets, new industries and new companies, since its inception in 2009 MakerBot has focused on making 3D printing available to schools from K-12 and beyond. PlasticsToday spoke with Johan Broer, public relations manager at MakerBot, and asked him why this has been so important to the company.
"MakerBot believes that 3D printing will be an essential, everyday tool in the future that will be used across various industries to bridge the gap between the digital and physical worlds," said Broer. "It is important for students to understand this technology to prepare them for the jobs of tomorrow. Bringing 3D printing to K-12 schools and universities will help train the next generation of engineers, architects, industrial designers and artists. 3D printers in schools and universities can also provide valuable hands-on experience and create an environment in which entrepreneurism, education and innovation can be cultivated and encouraged."
Broer believes that broad adoption of 3D printing in schools and universities is crucial to the future growth of technology and the adoption of 3D printing. "Every technology starts as a niche and education is an important catalyst for mass adoption," Broer stated. "MakerBot sees the adoption of 3D printing in schools on a similar trajectory as when computers went into schools. With the adoption of computing, schools created computer labs in order to help their students become fluent in computing. When those students grew up and graduated, they naturally regarded computers as a necessary tool, so they bought computers for their homes and offices. That in turn drove mass adoption. We are at that point in time now with 3D printing."
With 3D printing seen as not only the future of manufacturing but a disruptive technology for many other processes, schools are preparing students for the future of manufacturing. For example, Broer points out that in the plastics industry making prototype parts via injection molding requires an injection mold made using traditional subtractive manufacturing, which can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $6,000 and take two to three weeks turnaround time.
"Creating a prototype with a MakerBot Replicator 3D printer is much faster and only costs a fraction of what it costs to build a mold and injection mold parts," Broer said. "MakerBot 3D printers not only save money, but they also allow for faster and more frequent iterations of a production concept, hence why the term Real-Time Prototyping is used, which speeds up the development process significantly. Designers and engineers can do multiple iterations a day versus weeks. Hoover, for example, recently released two vacuum accessories on MakerBot's website thingaverse.com and was able to go from concept to market in two months thanks to Real-Time Prototyping on a MakerBot Replicator 3D Printer."
One factor that makes putting MakerBot 3D printers in schools easy is the price point. Broer noted that the MakerBot Replicator 3D printer ranges in price from $1,375 to $6,499.
Xavier University's MakerBot Innovation Center held its grand opening on Feb. 4, 2015, and includes 31 MakerBot Replicator 3D printers, a large supply of MakerBot PLA filament, several MakerBot Digitizer Desktop 3D scanners and MakerBot MakerCare Protection Plans.
That center, like the others that MakerBot has established, is designed to help schools and universities embrace 3D printing. "With the MakerBot Innovation Center, students, faculty and the community are provided opportunities to collaborate on Real-Time prototyping, model making and small-scale creative and manufacturing projects," said Broer. "This provides a unique way to prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow by putting them at the forefront of technology and giving them access to a thriving community of innovators."