In general, a 3D printer is used in the design and engineering of physical goods, including everything from tennis shoes to automobiles, said Scott Harmon, vice president of business development at Z Corporation.
“Designers and engineers across many industries use 3D printers to actually print a physical object that is a direct representation of a CAD drawing,” Harmon said. Those 3D printings are used to show models or ideas to engineers, or to test certain aspects of a design before moving into a more expensive manufacturing stage.
“The way that schools use [3D printing], or should use it, frankly, is when they’re teaching students about engineering or design,” Harmon said. “Prototyping, or the idea that you’d make a model of your final design, … is good design practice when you look at worldwide firms.”
National standards for teaching engineering design discuss the importance of creating prototypes, he added.
“One reason it’s so important for schools is because if students sit in front of CAD software, fundamentally, they’re making a file … but with a 3D printer you can actually make the object, hold it in your hands, and test things,” Harmon said.
“3D printing is exciting students about bringing things to life. It’s pretty powerful for students,” he added. “Engineering is a tough discipline; more and more students are finally getting back into it, but for many years schools struggled to attract students.”
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