Originally published on TeachThought
3D printing sounds like something from science fiction, but the process is similar to that of CNC machining, where billets are cut into specific shapes and products. But rather than cutting, it prints.
A 3D printer works by “printing” objects–but instead of using ink, it uses more substantive materials–plastics, metal, rubber, and the like. It scans an object–or takes an existing scan of an object–and slices it into layers it can then convert into a physical object.
The result is a product that while not as intricate, durable, or functional as the real-world equivalent, is otherwise a real thing that didn’t exist 30 seconds before you printed it.
In fact, what it is you’re actually producing depends on what is being printed: if it’s toy jewelry, rubber balls, and plastic chess pieces your after, you’re printing not an analogue of the real thing, but the real thing itself. Confused yet?
As far as how this can be used in education, it’s a matter of bringing objects out of the computer screen and into the hands of students for inspection, analysis, and other processes that can benefit from physical manipulation. In that way, 3D printers may eventually be able to bridge the gap between the physical and the digital–use a screen to find what you need, then print it into existence.