Additive manufacturing—3D printing to most of us—is changing the world one innovation at a time, and moving so fast that it’s a challenge for industry to keep up, let alone education curriculums, not renowned for their agility. It’s essential to foster a strong base of knowledge in 3D printing for the workforce of tomorrow, when being across basic design thinking, data analytics and coding will be considered as essential as reading, writing and arithmetic have been for previous generations.
GE is doing its bit to make this happen in primary and secondary schools around the world, with the announcement of this year’s winning schools in the second annual GE Additive Education Program. More than 3,000 schools from around the world applied for a place in the program, with 600 schools from 30 countries accepted, including 103 from Australia, the largest such educational rollout of the game-changing technology.
North Sydney Demonstration School was among the chosen, and president and CEO of GE APAC Wouter Van Wersch and sales director for GE Additive Australia and New Zealand Adam Watterson came along to celebrate the news, along with teachers and students. Later this year, GE will deliver 3D printers along with supplies and software and, importantly, an education curriculum, to the 600 schools around the world.
The award-winning curriculum that students will use to design for the 3D printers comes from Adelaide-based startup Makers Empire and will be used for the global program. “We are passionate about empowering students and teachers with the power of 3D printing to develop design thinking and 21st century learning skills,” says Jon Soong, CEO and founder of Makers Empire, in Sydney for the event.
Teacher Jeffrey Messina was the force behind North Sydney Demonstration School’s successful application and can’t wait to get cracking with the kids. He loves how 3D printing encourages children to problem solve: they can print their design, then re-evaluate and improve it, “in a continuous loop … it’s that project-based, iterative process that really attracted the school to wanting to join this program”.
A group of Year 5 and 6 children had the first go at designing for a 3D printer using the Maker’s Empire iPad 3D design software. They have lots of ideas as to how they’d use it in the classroom, such as on a Mars project, where they’re designing a system to sustain human life on the red planet. Others wonder aloud about using it to model the power of earthquakes and tsunamis. In short, they’re thinking big.
In the business world, additive is a real and present opportunity. “I encourage my customers to look at how they need to change their organisational structure and their business models to take full advantage of the additive process,” says Adam Watterson, sales director for GE Additive Australia and New Zealand. “The important thing for students like these kids to understand is the freedom of design that additive manufacturing can bring to them … they can think outside the box, and whatever they can think about they can create it, and if it’s not quite right, they can do and create it again. It doesn’t matter what industry you want to go into, additive can play a role in any of them.”
GE estimates that around 30,000 children in Australia will benefit from the 103 3D printing packages headed for schools, the largest additive-education program to be rolled out in Australia. GE sees as essential to “build a strong pipeline of additive-manufacturing skills— starting from the classroom—so that the next generation are on the front foot to take on future manufacturing opportunities,” said Van Wersch.
GE Additive has committed to a five-year investment in educational programs to deliver polymer 3D printers to primary and secondary schools and metal 3D printers to colleges and universities around the world. Australia has already been a significant player in GE’s Additive Education Program. In the first year of the program, the University of New South Wales was presented with a Concept Laser Mlab cusing metal laser printer, worth $350,000, the only institution outside of the US to be awarded the prize.
“This program gives kids as young as kindergarten exposure to 3D printing, and pairs their unconstrained thinking with technology, developing design thinking skills and problem solving ” says Soong.
“I want a 3D printer at home,” muses Year 6 student Attlee seriously. “You can build at free will, and there’s no limits. It enhances your creativity and it’s fun.”