Technology in the classroom is incredibly useful for students. Financial constraints, however, can often hold schools back.
Fortunately, students at Meridan State College don't have to worry about being behind the technological curve thanks to their Ultimaker 3D printing lab (exclusive to Redstack) and the guidance of Mr. Alex Low, one of the school's technology and industrial design teachers.
Having been in education for over two decades, Mr. Low is enthralled with how far the technology has come.
"I've seen the change from when i started to where we are now, and the mind boggles to where we'll be in another 21 years," he said.
3D Printing at Meridan State College
Before acquiring the Ultimaker 3D printing lab - a bank of six 3D printers - in 2015, students at the school worked with a number of different technologies, including milling machines and older 3D printers.
The technology moves fast, as Mr. Low observed. Even a 3D printer that the school purchased last year has since fallen out of use as the Ultimaker lab has proven to be much more suitable.
"There are a few technical constraints and limitations that you have with those [other printers] that you don't have with the Ultimakers," Mr. Low noted.
With a high volume of essential equipment and supplies, space is at a premium in a workshop. In the past, there was a real issue with finding a place for a printer, replacement spools and all the connecting cables. And once a suitable space was found, that's where the printer stayed.
The Ultimaker lab, however, is optimised for convenience and mobility. The bank of printers sits on a self-contained trolley that holds the machines, organises all the cables, and has storage space and a backup power supply. It is also easily transportable.
From idea to product with Autodesk CAD Software and 3D Printing
Technology and industrial design students at Meridan follow an optimised process; design, make and appraise. For Mr. Low, 3D printing is a crucial part of that workflow.
"If you're running that process without a 3D printer, I think you're doing a disservice to your kids," he said.
"You can literally pick [a design] up, hold it in your hand, and work out what needs to be changed. You remodel that on CAD and go and make the final product."
Almost everything that comes out of Meridan's lab starts out as a student's idea. While many people are content printing out designs they get online, Mr. Low wants students to start from the ground up, letting their ideas take shape in Autodesk CAD software, including Autodesk Inventor Professional. Autodesk provide their software to education institutions at no cost, making their industry leading 3d design, modelling, simulation, analysis and visualisation tools accessible to students.
"The intention of a 3D printer in a school is for students not to copy other people's work but to come up with their own ideas," he said.
For Mr. Low, that process hinges on 3D modelling. Without a knowledge of CAD, he says, students are missing out on a major component of design. Otherwise, they're making a copy and not an original product.
A crowd pleaser among students
From design to final product, students at Meridan are certainly putting the Ultimaker lab to good use - and not just in industrial technology and design. One year 11 marine science class used the printing bank to make a rubber band-powered boat. Mr. Low noted that they were able to model and test their designs; if one didn't work, they could reprint an update for 85-cents worth of plastic.
An advanced year 7 class got a taste of the work done by higher-level students by coming up with their own product and following the full design process.
Mr. Low's students have been quite busy as well, with projects ranging from designing a smartphone dock to the mechanism for rotating the panels on a solar-powered boat to maximise the energy intake from the sun.
In all classes, the printers are quite popular. Mr. Low noticed that students have been going out of their way to design projects in a way that ensures they get to use the printers.
The students are not the only fans. Other faculty members, and Mr. Low, are excited about the opportunities the printing lab has opened up.
"If you told me five years ago you could pluck a design off a computer screen, I'd tell you you were dreaming," Mr. Low said.
"Yet here we are now. Ring me again in 12 months and I think I'll be telling you a different story."