3D printing technology is used to print three-dimensional objects and products exactly according to simulations stored in some digital files. The equipment, including 3D printers, and the materials used as ink for the printing are generally expensive. Consequently, this technology is generally not a financially feasible option for most of us. This includes any attempts to use this technology in the classroom to teach subjects involving design and engineering.
3D printing has a potential to be used by designers, teachers and students for quick table-top experiments. This would render complicated time-consuming perfection of simulations unnecessary prior to studying the feasibility of their product for marketing. However, as mentioned, this technology is hampered by its high-cost equipment and materials needed for the printing. Leigh et al. (2012) has conducted a study on a new material that can potentially produce electronic sensors in a cost-efficient way. The raw materials needed to produce this new material, also known as a ‘carbomorph’ coined by Leigh et al. (2012), are easily obtained at a low cost. The authors have also shown that the material can be used to print functional components, hence enabling 3D printing to produce objects for functional use on the spot without waiting for orders to arrive from manufacturers.
The material introduced by Leigh et al. (2012) is merely capable of producing electronic sensors. Therefore, there is plenty of room for studies on improving the composition of the material for usage other than producing electronic sensors. The main raw material used to produce carbomorph is carbon black, which is indeed a very cheap and abundantly available material, hence lowering the cost of production of the carbomorph. Another raw material used to produce carbomorph is a biodegradable polyester. This polyester may not be conducive for other products not envisaged by the authors, such as those that require hardiness and stability, for example, medical implants put into the body. Further study can be done to examine if the polyester can be substituted with a chemically similar raw material without hampering the thermoplasticity of the carbomorph, yet non-biodegradable. The piezoresistivity of carbomorph was also determined by the authors. It was found that the resistivity of carbomorph changes when mechanical stress was applied to it. This is a useful property of the carbomorph as that means it is useful as a material to produce capacitive devices, for example, capacitors. One may envisage its potential as a pacemaker to regulate and manipulate the heartbeat according to the mechanical stress imposed on the carbomorph-made pacemaker.
A PMMA-based 3D printing process has been studied by Polzin et al. (2011). In addition, the authors have managed to determine the maximum achievable surface quality, and the mechanical properties of outputs made using a PMMA-based 3D printer. The authors have found that materials made from PMMA-based 3D printing has no capability in producing functional materials due to its lack of optimal mechanical properties. However, the 3D-printed material can be infiltrated with epoxy and wax to improve its mechanical properties and surface smoothness respectively, thereby making it now capable of producing functional properties. The cost of the polymer PMMA is not as low as that of the raw materials used by Leigh et al. (2012). However, the technique used to produce PMMA-based 3D products is better, in that it could produce walls with diameters as small as a few hundreds of microns. This is in contrast with the walls produced by Leigh et al. (2012) which have a several millimeters of thickness. It is potentially feasible to apply the PMMA-based technique to produce carbomorph, which was produced initially by Leigh et al. (2012) with other techniques. The carbomorph in this case could have better mechanical properties without sacrificing its piezoresistivity. However, the standard deviation to the quality of the PMMA-based outputs is large.
This is due to a bleeding effect typical of this 3D printing technique, which causes the output to have an inconsistent shrinkage throughout its entire structure. As the thickness of the walls of the structure decreases, the phenomenon puts a heavier toll on the quality of the output produced. Although the PMMA-based technique is capable of producing thin-walled structures, the technique needs further improvement before it can have a marketable potential in the industry producing micron-level products.
Convincing schools to invest in new technologies like a 3D printer requires one to help them overcome the financial barrier. This can be solved if the cost of the 3D printers and inks can be lowered, by means of innovations in the printing technique and introducing new materials like carbomorph. Even then, there may be other hurdles before schools are willing to accept new technologies like 3D printing for use in the classrooms, workshops and libraries. Abilock et al. (2013) discusses some of these hurdles from the perspective of a librarian attempting to convince the school to adopt a new technology in the library. Proposals were made by the librarian to convince the school that the new technology benefits everyone in the long run. This includes conducting workshops teaching the community about the new technology, and reporting on the statistics of the usage of the new technology. Additionally, it was proposed that the librarian will write blogs about the technology, and publicizing findings from presentations and conferences to the community. Unfortunately, the librarian failed to convince the principal and the teachers. Abilock et al. (2013) pointed out that the librarian could have change her approach to emphasize that the aim for the technology is to benefit the school. In her conversation with the principal, the librarian was focusing on explaining how the technology benefits the library and its users. Since the principal is the main decision maker for the school, he is naturally more concerned about the school as a whole and not merely its library. From the teachers’ perspective, new technologies are feared upon until they are comfortable with them.
Abilock et al. (2013) has concluded that convincing someone to adopt new technologies is more about putting ourselves in the other person’s shoes, and to tell our story about the technology in laymen’s term. This is because the other person is almost always someone naïve about the new technologies. This includes bearing in mind what are the most important factor he has to consider and be able to tailor our response accordingly to meet his needs instead of our needs. Rephrasing our words and techniques to suit the inner monologue of the person who will ultimately decide whether the technology should be given even a month’s trial in the school is beneficial. In order for teachers to be comfortable with the technology, one needs to hold workshops catering to answer their questions about the technologies and how the same technologies can help them in their classrooms. This would help to eliminate the risk of the teachers becoming a large negative force against the adoption of new technologies. This is contrary to what the librarian had in mind, which is to give an introduction on a technology and teach the teachers how to use it. According to Abilock et al. (2013), workshops like these should attempt to achieve at most three objectives per session. We agree on this as one can lose focus on the subject matter when too much information is packed into one workshop. To complement Abilock et al. (2013), we think that there should be weekly workshops. Each of them should aim to address different and harder questions from one week to another. Every future workshop will be designed around feedbacks from the teachers and students who participated in previous workshops.
Abilock et al., D., Harada, V. H., & Fontichiaro, K. (2013). “Growing Schools Effective
Professional Development”. Teacher Librarian, 41(1), 8-13.
Leigh et al., S. J., Bradley, R. J., Purssell, C. P., Billson, D. R., & Hutchins, D. A. (2012). “A
Simple, Low-Cost Conductive Composite Material for 3D Printing of Electronic
Sensors”. PLoS One, 7(11).
Polzin et al., C., Spath, S., & Seitz, H. (2013). “Characterization and Evaluation of a PMMA-
Based 3D Printing Process”. Rapid Prototyping Journal, 19(1), 37-43.