In yet another technological advance, an Amsterdam-based architectual firm plans to use 3D printing technology to–literally–print a house–before the year’s end. This technology is not new, but printing something of this scale is a fantastic demonstration of how technology can transform lives and open new interests and careers for today’s students and innovators.
In 2003, Alan Alda hosted an episode of Alan Alda’s Scientific Frontiers on PBS titled “You Can Make It On Your Own” in which he spoke about traditional printers, pondering, “But what if this printer were instead a little factory, capable not just of printing paper but of manufacturing objects — making things — things like… well, bicycles, for instance…”
The rest of the episode showcased how students in a class at MIT called How to Make (Almost) Anything used a computer to create a digital model of a bicycle and then printed the bicycle “from two-dimensional poly-carbonate cut on a water jet cutter.” To prove just how innovative this was, the engineer commented, “My sister was actually emailed this bicycle in Sydney and she’s riding one around.” This amazing technology gave a glimpse into the future and unleashed the potential to design and print actual parts and objects on an as needed basis. At the time, the 3D printer cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Fast forward to 2013 in Rockland County and visit Clarkstown South High School. There you can see projects that students have designed on computer being printed on a pair of 3D printers that are placed in a showcase for all to see. These printers cost less than $2,000 each, and a person can stand in the hallway and watch products–actual objects designed by students–be printed. Some of the printed objects are model airplanes, gears, parts for various tools, and more.
Recently, South High School teachers Mr. Kelvas and Mr. Corey spent more than half an hour with me, explaining the technology and the potential it has for individualized design and production. In short, manufacturing on demand is a reality, and students have the opportunity to learn and demonstrate the necessary engineering concepts. Ten years ago, 3D printing was an emerging technology for elite engineering students, and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars; today it is a hands-on reality for our high school students!
In an era when actual houses can be printed from anywhere in the world, and parts can be designed and made on an as needed basis, we’d be foolish to think that somehow “we’ve arrived.” The reality, as so poignently pointed out by Google’s Jaime Casap, is that the technology our students are using today are actually the most antiquated they will use in their lives!