As an exceedingly complex emerging technology, 3D printing is often inaccessible to most children and non-technical adults, but Airwolf 3D is bent on reaching out to bring those groups on board with the coming revolution in manufacturing.
So how can schools prepare the next generation of manufacturers to cope with 3D technology?
Erick Wolf, the President of Airwolf 3D, says the solution is to teach teachers to build 3D printers for the classroom and then get them into the hands of budding designers and builders.
On one Saturday in December of last year, more than 18 teachers from Orange County schools ranging from junior highs to community colleges met up early to take part in a groundbreaking project. Each educator was tasked with building a 3D printer for use in their classrooms.
It was "Build Day," and the to-do list was ambitious. At 8 am sharp, each teacher was assigned a work station and an Airwolf 3D Printer Kit. Inside the kits were the more than 500 parts which make up an Airwolf XL printer. Armed with tools, assembly and user manuals, over the course of the next eight hours the teachers assembled stationary frames, built the moving parts, and installed and calibrated the electronics.
The training and assembly process was overseen by Wolf, a designer and manufacturer of precision 3D printers through his company in Costa Mesa, CA.
It so happens that "Build Day" also served as the kick-off event of the 2014 Maker Challenge, an initiative opened by Career Technical Education of Orange County to let local students participate in an integrated STEM design project.
The students were challenged with taking on a task which used 3D modeling and printing to design and build – or significantly repurpose – various products. The winning projects will be exhibited at the Youth Expo STEM Showcase on April 11-13, 2014.
"3D printing is more than a one or two step process: it's a rapidly evolving form of manufacturing that can be done on a desktop – provided the operator understands how to calibrate his printer, work with design software, and use the various materials now available for 3D printers," Wolf says. "It's very likely that the most effective way of transferring this knowledge to students is the ground up model. Airwolf's printers were designed to be capable of printing all of their custom components."
Wolf said the machines the instructors put together on Build Day in 2013 may even be used to print parts for more printers in the future. Airwolf 3D is also part of a partnership with MatterHackers, Inc. to provide customers of Airwolf 3D's printers with a free, fully-supported version of MatterControl Pro. Offering an all-in-one 3D printing interface, MatterControl Pro is the first and only desktop 3D printing software to come with full phone and email support.
"Desktop 3D printers right now are seen as a very technical product," Wolf said. "We hope to change that by eliminating the steep learning curve. With MatterControl, the entire process is simple; you can literally drag and drop your 3D designs and then hit 'start'."