Chelsea Schelly, assistant professor of social sciences at Michigan Tech, says 3D printing can be used to help empower individuals.
“When you produce something yourself instead of purchasing it, that changes your relationship to it,” Schelly explained. “You are empowered by it.”
As Dennis Walikainen of Michigan Tech News notes, the principle might sound simple at first, although its ramifications are wide ranging, especially for middle and high school educators. In fact, that’s where Schelly’s 3D printing research began – at a teacher workshop coordinated by 3D printing guru Joshua Pearce.
During the workshop, one local high school teacher designed and printed a snowblower part that typically retails for $200.
“Instead, he made it himself and saved the money. And he saved the hassle of bringing the machine to the shop to get it fixed,” said Schelly. “The early feedback from the teachers is that the students are more engaged. They take pride in making these things for themselves. This could be seen as part of the larger ‘Maker’s Movement,’ where people are doing their own production processes.”
Joshua Pearce concurred, noting that more individuals are likely to begin designing and creating their own products as 3D printer prices drop significantly.
“As 3D printing [is] open-sourced, the costs plummeted from tens of thousands of dollars to $1,600 for assembled printers today, and the new RepRap printers are down to $500 in parts. As the price drop continues, they will become household items, like desktop printers. This has the potential to disrupt the way we manufacture,” he explained.
“The number of designs is exploding. There are a lot of helpers out there. Give us what you’ve got, and we’ll build on it and give you what we’ve got—and we all benefit. [For example], an open-source Chinese smartphone, made with a 3D printer, was [recently] posted online for $130, and 100,000 sold in 90 seconds.”
As we’ve previously discussed on Bits & Pieces, the DIY Maker Movement has been using Atmel-powered 3D printers like MakerBot and RepRap for some time now. However, 3D printing has clearly entered a new and important stage in a number of spaces including the medical sphere, architectural arena, science lab and even on the battlefield.
Indeed, the meteoric rise of 3D printing has paved the way for a new generation of Internet entrepreneurs, Makers and do-it-yourself (DIY) manufacturers. So it comes as little surprise that the lucrative 3D printing industry is on track to be worth a staggering $3 billion by 2016.