This is a guest post in our series looking at the future of 3D Printing. To celebrate 5 years of reporting on the 3D printing industry, we’ve invited industry leaders and 3D printing experts to give us their perspective and predictions for the next 5 years and insight into trends in additive manufacturing.

Dr Tracy Gardner is a Director of Tech Age Kids, a website that helps parents and educators to develop children’s tech skills. 3D printing for kids is a regular topic with recent posts showing how children can write code to design their own 3D models.

3D Printing: the Next 5 Years by Dr Tracy Gardner

My children, now 10 and 8 have grown up around 3D printing. It’s normal to them. When they were little we turned their artwork and handprints into 3D art. We 3D scanned my younger son and used a 3D print of him to create a silicon mould for chocolates. Over the years we’ve found various ways for them to create 3D models and now they’re getting older they’re able to create simple models themselves. Recently my older son came home and told us that he needed to design and 3D print some game pieces for a school project … by the next day.

Arckit 3D printed furniture for a tween room. Photo by Tech Age Kids.

3D printed furniture and floors for Arckit coded with BlocksCAD. Photo by Tech Age Kids.

 

My partner has been building 3D printers since 2012 and my work is concerned with developing STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) and digital making skills in children. Clearly my kids’ experience isn’t typical. But, 3D printing is becoming more accessible  to children and families.

A few years ago the conversations we had with interested families at events were around the technology and how it works. Now the conversations have moved on to which 3D printer they should choose and the costs and practicalities of using one. Increasingly 3D printers are available in schools and to younger pupils. I’ve run 3D printing workshops and sessions with 9-11 year olds and they’re quite capable of understanding the concepts and given suitable tools some are excellent at 3D modelling.

3D Printed Chocolate Bunnies. Photo by Tech Age Kids.

Bunny modelled by a 7 year old and then turned into chocolate with 3D printing and silicon moulding. Photo by Tech Age Kids.

3D printing technology and modelling tools have now reached a point where it’s viable (in terms of cost and time) for interested families to introduce their children to 3D printing at home.

Blockscad coder code. Image by Tech Age Kids.

Graphical drag and drop 3D modelling with BlocksCAD. Image by Tech Age Kids.

 

 

 

 

 

Little kids love making stuff. As kids get older their making often becomes virtual in games such as Minecraft. 3D printing allows kids to design and make physical objects that are useful, fun or decorative.

Access to 3D printing and other fabrication technology changes kids’ mindsets in the direction of becoming makers and menders rather than just consumers. We think this is more important than building up a collection of brightly coloured plastic stuff.

The next five years

We’re not going to predict that kids will be designing and printing all of their own toys in 5 years time!  We do expect to see more 3D printing link-ups with brands that appeal to children. And more consumer-focused 3D printers targeting families.

The big change we see is that more children and young people will be exposed to 3D printing and will add it to their skillset. The challenge here is being able to train enough educators with the skills needed to introduce children from a diverse range of backgrounds to 3D printing.

We think family-friendly maker spaces in libraries are a great way to give kids access to 3D printing technology outside of school and we expect to see more of these as well as more 3D printing clubs, camps and workshops.

What would we like to see?

Families often ask about recycling of 3D printed objects. And they’ll ask this question more when they realise how often 3D prints don’t work out quite as planned!

Affordable multi-color 3D printing is also important to kids. They don’t want to be constrained by a small number of colors and the inconvenience of swapping filaments.

For many kids brand tie-ins will be important. We hope that kid-focused brands will be open to exploring ways to allow kids to legally 3D print and remix their content.

Kids always ask if they can 3D print chocolate. Affordable food-safe 3D printers will definitely appeal to kids.

Kids are the Future of 3D Printing

Over the next five years we predict that it will become increasingly normal for children and teens to reach for 3D modelling tools and 3D printers when they want to make something (with parental help or supervision for the younger ones.) We’re looking forward to seeing what young people will design and invent.

This is a guest post in our series looking at the future of 3D Printing, if you’d like to participate in this series then contact us for more information. For more insights into the 3D printing industry, sign up to our newsletter and follow our active social media channels.

Don’t forget that you can vote now in the 1st annual 3D Printing Industry Awards.

There is more information about Tech Age Kids here.

Featured image shows Chocolate Bunnies made using 3D modelling and 3D printing. Photo via Tech Age Kids.

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