3D Printing as an Educational Tool

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“The study of engineering must be approached from new technologies, especially if we can use them as teaching tools.”

Would you live in a 3D printed house? Well, this technology is already available. Earlier this year, two companies, New Story and Icon, set themselves the challenge of printing a house in 24 hours at an approximate cost of USD 4000, which is about 80,000 Mexican pesos. Additive manufacturing, popularly known as 3D printing, makes it possible to create physical objects by adding some material, such as resin, plastic, metal, wood or paper, layer by layer, based on a digital model designed beforehand using specialized software. This technology has changed how products are manufactured, designed, operated, maintained, and distributed for the industry in general.

At present, engineering education should be approached based on new technologies, mainly if we can use them as educational tools with an industrial focus, thus acquainting students with the most innovative practices in this sector. Additive manufacturing has also reached other industries such as medicine, architecture, transportation, art, and design. As its adoption is accelerated, students who are capable of “thinking in 3D” and putting these technologies to the best use will be required (Pastor, 2019).

"The value generated by 3D printing in the learning process is not only to make prototypes but also to ground the engineering concepts, from conception to the manufacture of a piece."

3D printing in education is used to obtain answers to questions such as: What’s a mathematic model? What does an equation represent? If you are a math teacher, check out the following links for some ideas about how to incorporate technology into your classroom.

In order to offer alternatives for studying and applying engineering, in the 'Engineering Project' class students developed a differential, a robotic arm, test tubes for test assessment, pillboxes and commemorative keychains. You can see some of these projects here. We use a Zortrax M200 3D printer, with prices ranging from 16,000 to 110,000 Mexican pesos, depending on its application, i.e. whether the equipment is used to produce functional or just demonstration pieces. The goal of the students’ in-class projects is to have the elements for analyzing mechanical tests. In addition to the printer, the cost of materials is between 500 and 4300 Mexican pesos, depending on what students need to print.

What we do in this course is to bring industrial topics to the academia, so that students can interact and find out what happens in actual manufacturing, logistics, transportation and maintenance processes, through the formulation of tangible projects. The aim of the value generated by this technology in the learning process is not only to produce prototypes, but also to establish the relevance of the engineering aspects of 3D printing, from the conception to the production of a piece, obtaining physical models with diverse characteristics to be analyzed, such as impact, resistance, breakage, fatigue, etc. Moreover, students solve a problem by engaging in a multidisciplinary, collaborative learning process. Finally, they come face to face with complex environments that they will be able to resolve with the topics that become part of their development.

These are some of the projects students have made in class:

We want to invite all teachers and students who are interested in this topic to develop areas of application with 3D technologies, to foster new learning methods that they can assess themselves.

About the authors

Jesús Vicente González Sosa (vicente.gonzalez@tec.mx) holds a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering. He is currently a professor at the School of Engineering and Sciences, Department of Mechanics and Advanced Materials of Tecnológico de Monterrey, Mexico City Campus.

Miguel de Jesús Ramírez Cadena (miguel.ramirez@tec.mx) is a Full-Time Professor at the School of Engineering and Sciences, Department of Mechatronics of Tecnológico de Monterrey, Mexico City Campus.