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The growth of 3D printing is having a major impact on education, as Simon Brooke reports

3 min read

Around the world students are now able to produce objects that they have designed on screen more quickly and easily than ever before.

At the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, students are using 3D printing in the college’s toy design classes to fabricate components for toy development and there are new pilot projects for use in the classroom across the School of Art & Design.

“With the toy programme, we’re teaching students how to translate their ideas into a format that communicates with the 3D printer,” says Joanne Arbuckle, the School of Art & Design’s dean. “We’re also inspiring them through various presentations.” 3D printing will change the teaching of design, she believes. “It will provide ‘instant’ realisation of design concepts, and it allows for the ability to produce samples that in the past may not have been possible due to time and cost constraints.”

At Oldham University in the north of England, 3D printing has a special role in the fast- growing computer gaming sector.

“We introduced the technology in 2010 as part of our Digital Arts Practice BA (Honours) course,” says Frank Fitzpatrick, course leader. “Objects from our 3D digital modelling systems are sent to our Dimensions 3D Printer and allow for the physical manifestation of avatars and other digitally created artefacts.”

3D printing allows students to get a better understanding of how their work will look when it becomes a game. “It affords the opportunity of a tactile outcome in what is generally a virtual medium with the ability to present the physical manifestation of virtual objects,” says Fitzpatrick. “It can close the circle of a process that may involve tactile concept modelling with polymer materials through digital modelling and back to a physical outcome.”

Pierre Papet is in his second year of an MA in industrial design at Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design in London. “It’s certainly made the design process so much easier and faster,” he says. Instead of waiting weeks for a prototype to be made in a material, such as balsa wood, 22-year-old Papet and his colleagues can leave the college’s 3D printer to make it over the space of two or three nights.

However, to make 3D printing work properly requires considerable skill and attention to detail. “Even if you’re used to a CAD [computer-aided design] system it’s quite a challenge to see something in 3D on the screen and, if you don’t get it absolutely right, then when it prints out you find that it doesn’t quite fit together or it doesn’t work properly,” he says. “But for students and designers, it’s still a very exciting new technology.”