Stratasys, MakerBot’s parent company, has made no secret of the fact that full blown adoption of 3D creativity at all levels will start with those who are in school today. The company launched its Makerbot Academy initiative last November with the stated aim of bringing a MakerBot 3D Printer into every American High School. Apparently that is going to take too long. So, while, tomorrow’s university students begin to familiarize themselves with the possibilities of 3D printing, MakerBot is targeting tomorrow’s engineers and today’s university graduates with the announcement of a new initiative to help transform colleges – and businesses – into MakerBot Innovation Centres.

What this means is that colleges – starting with the State University of New York at New Palz – will be equipped with a 30+ strong 3D Printer centre built in partnership with MakerBot’s engineering and creative teams. Each centre will have printing capabilities to make multiple prototypes and models, streamline workflow and stimulate creative inspiration, helping the university in recruiting and fund-raising efforts.

The idea of a centre filled with thirty FDM 3D Printers set up and free to use by all students and all departments is fascinating. It takes us back to the early PC age – not so long ago – when only a few students had their own system and those who needed to use a computer (or a printer) did so in the college’s public computer centers. Only this is not just about writing papers and outlining student projects: having access to thirty “personal factories” enables students to train, learn and familiarize themselves with the manufacturing technologies of the future, while on the business side it will allow for actual prototyping, product development and even small scale manufacturing.

Bre Pettis, MakerBot’s Chief Executive, outlined the company’s vision: “Having a MakerBot Innovation Centre in a place of business or in a university can change the whole dynamic of the new product iteration and innovation cycle” – he explained.  “Class projects can be brought to life through 3D printing and scanning. Product prototypes can be created, refined and finalized at a much faster and affordable pace. Schools can train future innovators and be ahead of the curve when it comes to preparing students for the real world. We believe that having a MakerBot Innovation Center in a university or workplace is an incredible opportunity for those using it to unleash the power of innovation and change the world.”

The SUNY New Palz centre will open next week on February 11th, with Pettis cutting the ribbon for the Grand Opening ceremony. It will also serve to enrich the Hudson Valley college’s course offering, expanding on the currently available Digital Design and Fabrication program. Imagine getting a degree in 3D printing? Today it almost sounds crazy and yet the same thing happened with videogames and everyone knows how that turned out: with videogame graduates getting high paying, highly skilled jobs. Once again, though, the potential is even larger: 3D printing is not just about entertainment, it is a creative paradigm that includes all manufacturing and all areas of application.

The project involved more than just the state university. The Hudson Valley Economic Development Corporation and Hudson River Ventures both see it as a driver for the region’s progress in the field of advanced manufacturing, with 3D printing in general envisioned as a tremendous boost for economic growth and job creation. However, as many who have recently entered the 3D printing world have discovered, competition is mounting. The MakerBot Innovation Centre to open at the  College of the Ouachitas in Malvern, Arkansas, is going to be the larger, with 47 Replicator 2’s, 6 Makerbot 2X’s and 6 Makerbot Digitizer 3D Scanners. Here the goal is to work with regional business and industries in the plastic engineering sector, in support of the College’s existing Mechatronics and emerging entrepreneurial programs. One of the first large-scale 3D printing assignments the College is exploring is with the Robohand Project to print mechanical prosthetic hands to benefit those who have suffered amputations or were born with amniotic band syndrome.

The stock market and big investors may still have doubts as to what the full potential of 3D printing technology really is but MakerBot – and many education institutions, in America and all over the world – apparently do not. No big surprise there: Personal 3D scanners and 3D printers are already set to be an integral part of a growing number of school programs and business venture. Sometimes we forget that the Makerbot scanner, this time last year, had not even been announced yet, let alone sold or distributed.

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