3D Printing Makes an Impact in Classrooms
Kyle Maxey posted on November 06, 2013 |
Mechanical design students get hands on education with 3D printing

3d printing, ACC, education, design, engineering, CAD, mechanical, materials, student 3D printing is for more than designers and manufacturers; it’s making an impact in higher education.

At Austin Community College’s Architectural and Engineering (A&E) CAD Department, the next generation of mechanical designers is learning how to design and model tomorrow’s innovative products.

Today, students use 3D printers to develop and print their own designs; often taking on collaborative projects where whole classes are tasked with redesigning entire complex systems.

3D printing, student, Engineering, design, materials, education, CAD, mechanical, ACCTake for example one of the department’s advanced mechanical classes. Spanning the entire semester, students are asked to model, evaluate, and iterate the design for a twin valve engine. Once the engine’s initial design is complete students are tasked with creating their own engine modifications that can improve the design’s performance.

As part of their training, students learn the ins and outs of CAD technique, GD&T, and the benefits and limits of 3D printing. It is a curriculum built upon years of experience with 3D printers, and it incorporates the 3D printing technology into the everyday experience of design.

According to Department Chair Doug Smith, “When we got our first printer I thought that we’d be printing models of the parts that our students were drawing so they could better visualize their geometry.” The department soon realized, however, the technology could be used for much more than that. “After we had our printer for a while we started realizing that it would be good to have students start printing their designs so they could see how the process of manufacturing works.”

“I think 3D printing gives students a better understanding of how to design something,” says Brian Haggerty, Senior Computer Lab Support Tech and the department’s 3D printing guru. “Knowing how a material will behave or if a part will print is an important aspect of design.” 

Beyond student interaction with 3D printers, the department has also setup a community resource where local inventors can come in, work with students to model their designs and eventually have their inventions prototyped on the department’s printer.

3D printing, student, Engineering, design, materials, education, CAD, mechanical, ACCBy leveraging the strengths of 3D printing the A&E CAD department at ACC is able to give students a better understanding of manufacturing’s constraints and processes. Furthermore, the department is able to reach out to the community and act as an incubator for invention by providing rapid prototyping and first-rate CAD skill all within the same environment.

Although the department has had success with 3D printing, Doug Smith still thinks the technology has some drawbacks. Most concerning are the cost of materials and the expensive maintenance that comes with the machine.

Still, the department is invested in 3D printing and its educational value. “One of the things we’ve been talking about is instead of buying one big 3D printer we’d spread that money out and buy a number of desktop units in the hopes that we can give more students access to 3D printing.”

As 3D printers continue to make their way into educational settings, students will likely find their classroom experience more engaging and enriching. Thanks in no small part to forward looking institutions like ACC and its A&E CAD Department, the future of engineering education is looking bright.

Images Courtesy of ACC A&E CAD Department

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