3dprinting story run by the3dprintingassociation.com published 8th and 9th December over two days

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We recently spent some time with Philip Cotton, winner of the 3D Printshow educational excellence award for two consecutive years, what follows is part one of a two part interview with Phil.

We begans by asking, “How and why did you first become interested in 3D Printing?”

I first became interested in 3D printing after stumbling across it on the internet. I found the cubify website in its beta stages and decided to look further into the technology. After researching it in more detail I knew that this would be huge and would have massive potential in the classroom. Also on a personal level the technology interested me.

The idea that I could manufacture iPhone cases and other everyday objects in my own home was immensely powerful and one that I wanted to experiment with. I pitched the idea of 3D printing to the head teacher and the school bought a 3D printer (about 4 years ago).

I started to experiment with the printer and see what would be viable to design and print in lessons and then started integrating it into student projects. After the early stages success of 3D printing in lessons I decided to buy one for home so I could keep experimenting in school holidays and weekends. With a 3D printer at home and one in school I really started to see the benefits of this technology as every time you 3D print you embark upon a learning curve and it can become quite ‘addictive’.

There is something quite satisfying about designing and making your own products in the comfort of your own house.

What is the primary benefit of using the technology in Schools?

The main benefit of using 3D printing in schools is the ability to make high quality products that previously you could not have made in schools. Also it keep students current with industry as the technology is still emerging and changes are rapidly occurring.

This allows for rich learning opportunities every time the technology advances. When 3D printing students have to really engage in higher level thinking and it can really stretch students beyond their comfort zone. Designing on 3DCAD is not easy and is a real challenge that involves using Maths alongside design and ICT.

Then throw into the equation the operating of the machines and materials knowledge and you have a true STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) activity. With a shortage of engineers in the UK 3dprinting has the ability to help inspire students into engineering subjects and potentially future careers. If we educate students about 3dprinting then we are preparing them to gain employment in the fastest growing area of technology in the next decade. 3D printing will effect almost every area of manufacturing, design, medicine and engineering so the sooner we start integrating it into the curriculum the better.

What is main challenge to exploiting 3D within education?

There are a few challenges to really exploiting 3D printing in education. One of these is teachers having the knowledge and ability to actually teach 3dprinting to whole classes. From experience it is not the easiest thing to teach. The teacher needs to have an almost expert knowledge of the CAD packages they teach and this takes time to learn. One thing teachers don’t have is time……  Many teachers have also not had the background in CAD to be able to pass this onto students. However, there are many free courses available where teachers can learn about the basics of 3DCAD and then pass this onto students and with Autodesk making their software free to all teachers and students this will greatly help with this issue.

Another challenge is the functionality and reliability of the machines. 3D printers get clogs and blockages that can be highly frustrating. The worst thing is seeing a large print that has taken hours to print fail in the final 10% due to filament clogging or the print warping of the bed. Part of 3D printing at the moment is having to strip the printers down to unblock extruders, sometimes this can take hours and a high level of technical ability to fix. Then there is the speed of the printers, this is improving but still has a long way to go. In my personal opinion I think we have hit a wall with how far we can go with FDM technology. With the patents expiring on SLS printing I expect within five years the prices of these printers will drastically reduce and they will be mainstream and eventually replace FDM.

Then finally there is the cost of 3D printers. With the technology advancing so fast and newer models released on an annual basis by companies, it can be difficult for schools to spend potentially two thousand pounds on a machine that in a year will be replaced by a better model. I personally bought a solidoodle 2 one year ago and since then Solidoodle has released five new printers…….

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Yesterday we published the first part of our interview with Phil Cotton, winner of the 3D Print show educational excellence award for two consecutive years, where he discussed some of the benefits and challenges for 3D printing within the educational environment you can read more here

Today we continue our conversation with Phil, where he reveals amongst other things, who from within the 3D printing community he’d most like to invite for lunch!

Phil, what are you proudest of and why?

The main thing I am proudest about is to be recognised for my efforts in 3D printing by be awarded the 3D print show educational excellence award in two consecutive years. This has only be possible through teaching students that have appreciated the potential of the technology and also through having the support of my school ‘Ladybridge High School’. The designs that have been produced by my students have blown me away and they are proof of how if allowed to experiment with 3dprinting they will embrace it and push their capabilities as far as possible. One of my students has recently design a product and then sent it to shapeways to be professionally 3dprinted as he has an idea to start a business and is prototyping his idea. Amazing when you think he is only 15. Another student has designed products that have featured on myminifactory.com. These success stories from students are what making 3D printing in education all the more rewarding.

Can you tell us what one thing would you like to see within the 3D ecosystem over the next 12 months and why?

Over the next 12 months I would like to see cheaper and more reliable machines that have increased speed, so that when teachers are 3D printing they know that their prints will always work. (When we print a document from word/excel we don’t sit there thinking hmmm, will the printer actually print the whole document or will it only print half and then the printer nozzle will block or the paper will jam. Over my lifetime of printing thousands of documents from ink jet and laser printers I can only think of a handful of times where the paper has got jammed. If we can replicate this in 3D printing then that would be a major achievement). I would also like to see a ‘direct print’ feature with wireless streaming so that saving files onto SD cards and USBs and then having to insert them into the printer to print become a thing of the past.

A nice feature would be for a 3DCAD package aimed at high school students be released so that the transition into 3D Design is easier and not so daunting. The main thing about this is that is it free for schools and students.

Finally Phil, If you could invite anyone within the 3D & AM community to lunch, who would it be and why?

Hmmm….. There are so many people. I think it would have to be Joshua Harker. At the 2013 3D print show I attended his presentation on 3D printing and was hugely impressed by his history as an artist in the 3D printing world. He really has been at the forefront of pushing the boundaries of 3D printing and the calibre of his art work is world class.

His ‘Cranis Anatomica Filigre Skull’ and his ‘Quixotic Divinity Headdress’ are like nothing else out there and I feel that his designs are the best in the world. Along with this he has a story and background of accredited as the first person to break the design and manufacturing threshold of 3D printing through his ‘Tangle sculpture series’.

Without designers and artists pushing the technology out of its comfort zone I really don’t think we would be where we are now. As well as this he seems just a great down to earth guy with a passion for 3D printing unlike no other.

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