The concept of 3D printing always conjures thoughts of the future. Imagine having the ability to create any item right in front of you, as explored by many futuristic movies and TV shows. All you need is a plan and a printer.
 In the late 1980’s the first 3D printing technologies were invented; Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) and Stereolithography (SLA). At its invention, 3D printing was prolific because for the first time it allowed engineers and companies to create functional prototypes without first having tooling made. This meant companies saving millions of dollars in development costs and rapidly prototype new designs to achieve perfection. 
 The term 3D printing has become a bit of a misnomer as rather than an individual technology, it’s a category of technologies that use a massive variety of feedstocks to manufacture an object in an additive process. 
 Over the last 6 years, many patents have expired which has led to both SLA and FDM 3D printing transforming from an expensive industrial technology to inexpensive desktop tools found in homes and classrooms around the world.

InkSmith’s education solutions also includes the programmable and 3D printable k8 micro:bit based robotics kit — photo provided by Jeremy Hedges, President, InkSmith

InkSmith’s education solutions also includes the programmable and 3D printable k8 micro:bit based robotics kit — photo provided by Jeremy Hedges, President, InkSmith

Many companies, organizations, and academic institutions are seizing the opportunity to put the rapidly-developing technology into the hands of future innovators and entrepreneurs. Here in Ontario, York Region District School Board (YRDSB) partnered with InkSmith to bring FDM 3D printing to high school students, preparing them for a world of rapid technological advancements and a changing workforce.

The YRDSB-InkSmith partnership looks to provide students with access to this emerging technology through their participation in the AdvancingEducation Program, offered by Ontario Centres of Excellence on behalf of the Ontario government. The program helps connect Ontario’s public education system with companies to test early-market interest and demonstrate innovative products and technologies in an education setting.

AdvancingEducation is funded by OntarioBuys, which helps drive collaboration and improve supply chain processes in Ontario’s broader public sector by investing in innovation and facilitating and accelerating the adoption of integrated supply chain, back-office leading practices and operational excellence.

InkSmith’s team and their 3D printers — photo provided by Jeremy Hedges, President, InkSmithInkSmith’s team and their 3D printers — photo provided by Jeremy Hedges, President, InkSmith

How 3D printing benefits students

The YRDSB believes that learning about technology like 3D printing is necessary to provide a foundation for 21st century skills and competencies. This thinking applies to both teachers and students as next-generation technology grows exponentially.

“We looked at 3D printing because it happens to be an emerging technology. There’s a lot of interest in it, and we’re going to capitalize on some of this momentum and interest,” says Chris Tucker, Pathways Consultant, YRDSB. “This will reinforce some fundamental design skills that, right now, may utilize 3D printers, but are fundamental enough skills that students will be in a better position to adopt whatever the next innovative technology is because they have the design thinking skills and tools necessary for them to make that leap.”

“The real takeaway from us is the teaching of the design and modeling skills for students,” Tucker continues. “3D printers at this point are just a vehicle by which they’re realizing their designs, not necessarily the ultimate end goal.”

3D printing in the classroom

InkSmith works with school boards across Canada to bring 21st century technologies and learning framework to the classroom. Specifically, they provide 3D printers, k8 robotics kits, micro:bits, teacher training, curriculum packages and the tech support to go with it. Their company mandate of bringing cutting-edge technology and design thinking curriculum to classrooms across Canada aligns with the YRDSB’s goal of providing teachers and students with the necessary training and tools to properly use evolving technology.

“3D printing is fundamentally going to change how and where things are manufactured around the world. As the technology transitions from a prototyping method to mass manufacturing, it’s going to be very important that future generations have the skills to operate these machines,” says Jeremy Hedges, President, InkSmith. “But beyond that side of it, more than teaching technology, we’re really teaching how to think.”

“It’s an exciting, engaging way to teach 21st century technologies and skills,” Hedges continues. “It arms students with the critical thinking and creativity that they will need to thrive the rest of their lives.”

The two-year project with OCE, totalling $707,300, will act as a pilot program for system-wide scaling in Canada. Starting with the initial 10 YRDSB high schools receiving 3D printers, training, and design thinking introduction, the project aims to further integrate Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM) into the curriculum and further engage students.