People often ask me at what age children should be confronted with #3DPrinting and where?
Seeing the interest of my two Deeplets, I decided to introduce more children to 3DPrinting by doing a talk and workshop at TEDxYouth@Flanders 2011 for children aged 11 to 18 years. And even convincing Ritik’s 6th grade teacher to let Ritik do a talk for career day on 3DPrinting (due this Friday). This was before the technology hit Belgian mainstream media and it became acceptable.
Current convention is to introduce children to 3Dprinting during higher education, but my view is that they should get in touch with this technology a lot earlier. It should be at a stage when their imagination is still wide open and not in a mere design-oriented environment. 3Dprinting is not only about design, it also sparks interest in engineering and software programming.
As a matter of resources, I can understand that targeting a small set of design students is easier and more effective that addressing all the primary school students, but specialty events like TEDxYouth and local Belgian ikanda, would be ideal platforms to reach out to children.
There should be a standard package for schools to get involved: a sponsored printer, which could be assembled as part of a class effort and a package of lessons which can help children get started. Websites like tinkercad.com could be great catalysts there to help children grasp the basics of CAD design. All the elements are available separately, but they need to be packaged into one solution for schools, so that they are easily applied. Maybe even do the program with loaner printers, which could stay at the school for 1 month for the children to get acquainted with an option to buy one if the program is well received.
The idea of building your own printer may not be relevant for too long, since assembled solutions are amply available and it will allow you to focus on the printing rather than the printer. But assembling your own printer does give you insight into the technology and also is a nice way to explain the basics of electronics to kids in a very applied manner.
One of the hurdles in general acceptance of Additive Manufacturing is the reluctance of the current engineering corps to adopt the technology. It is fine for Rapid Prototyping, which is an outlier process, which is often outsourced. But the moment the tech comes on the work floor, people are skeptical. This needs to be changed in the next generation of engineers, who need to see Additive Manufacturing as an additional tool on the work floor for a much more flexible manufacturing base, not as a threat to their existing way of working.