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Part 2: How Do You Know if You Need a 3D Printer for Your Classroom?

In part one of this series, we looked at the educational benefits of 3D printing. To realize the true benefit there are several key factors to consider. Let’s now look at these to help you evaluate if your school or university is prepared for 3D printing.
How will students access the printer?
As with any new technology, initially there is a lot of excitement. This is also the case with 3D printing but, because students are often not able to freely use it, it can be forgotten about and sit gathering dust. One of the key drivers behind this is safety and theft. It is understandable that schools and universities want to protect students from injury and ensure that other students do not take 3D objects that don’t belong to them. These concerns are caused by open units which require careful policing and hence access is limited.
An enclosed 3D printer with lockable doors that requires a user to login eradicates these concerns completely. This means that you can place the printer(s) in a more accessible location and encourage students to use 3D printing to enhance their learning experience.
Where do we physically place a 3D printer?
Location is key for the successful adoption of 3D printing. Staff and students need to interact with 3D printing regularly, it should be a natural part of their day. They should also be able to use the 3D printer outside of formal lesson times. This means that the ideal location for your 3D printer may be an easy to access area of the school or university and somewhere that doesn’t disturb ongoing classes but is also accessible to ongoing classes.

In part five of this series, we’ll provide detailed guidance on creating the perfect environment for your 3D printer(s).
What skills do our staff and students need?
3D printing begins with a digital file of a 3D model design. This requires working with a CAD (Computer Aided Design) program. Whereas technically focused schools and universities may have in-house expertise working with design files, many non-technical schools and universities don’t. Obviously, if you have CAD (Computer Aided Design) programs as part of your schools’ software that students can use, then the opportunities around 3D printing are increased. However, 3D Printing is becoming more mainstream and there are several free and paid for resources available to the novice, here are just a couple and Many of these sites contain files that 3D enthusiasts have shared and can be a good starting point to try before investing in CAD software.
In part eight of this series, we’ll provide some tips on how to design for 3D printing. This includes advice for beginners to intermediate 3D designers.
How do we manage 3D printers?
3D printers, just like their paper counterparts, do need periodic maintenance and servicing and scheduled servicing to replace parts and ensure the printer is in good working order. Managing 3D printers requires some specialist knowledge. If you already have a service agreement with a third party for your 2D print environment then you are well positioned to add 3D printers (Your school’s IT department can answer this). Your third party provider should know how to service and support a 3D printer, it is simply a case of them receiving training on the specific 3D printer you choose. Again, this is not an issue as 3D print vendors will offer this to their partners.
If you do not have any formal service or support for your current printers this could be the perfect time to not only adopt 3D printing but also review and optimize your current 2D printing environment. The print industry has changed significantly over the years. Today there are solutions that make both the purchase and ongoing management of your print environment more cost effective. Choosing a 3D print provider that also handles your 2D paper printers may also mean volume discounts.
In part ten of this series we’ll discuss further the considerations for managing and supporting your 3D printer. It will also offer guidance and advice to ensure your entire print environment is fully optimized.
How do we cover the costs of 3D printing?
Some schools and universities have budget set aside to invest in new technology, and in a few school districts, grants are available specifically for adopting new technology in education. Technology is highly valued in education and so this is not uncommon; and where the budget does exist, 3D printing is proving to be a popular investment. If you do not have access to existing budget then you may worry that 3D printing is too expensive. In addition to the cost of the 3D printer, consider the material involved in printing projects.
The ongoing management of the 3D printer depends on the volume of 3D printing. How many projects a month will be printed? Will they be simple, solids or more complex designs? Will your printer provide an estimate of how long the project will take to print and the amount of materials it will consume?

There are ways to cover the ongoing management cost and consumable costs. Many schools allocate lab fees or printing fees to cover paper printing. These can be extended to 3D objects.
Additionally, many schools charge students for printing on a pay-as-you-go service. This can be very important especially if students are using 3D printing for personal use. Whether you charge or not, it is important to know which classes or departments are using the printer and 3D printing materials so that they can be charged accordingly. Look for a 3D printer provider that enables you to track and accurately allocate costs and, if required, offers a credit based system.

In Part 3, we will help you answer the key question “How Much Does 3D Printing Cost?”

Learn more about 3D Printing in Education

Introducing 3D Printing into the Classroom is a series of articles designed to help educators and IT administrators in education understand 3D printing, how 3D printing can enhance the learning experience and the considerations about the 3D printing ecosystem. Understanding the 3D printing process, how the solution fits into the classroom and how costs, access and usage can be managed are elements of a successful 3D Printing Program.

Part 1, What is 3D Printing, and what are the benefits for Education?

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