The future of 3D printing by Claude Wolf, University of Luxembourg

Our series looking at the future of 3D printing continues with insights into the next generation of engineers and the circular economy from the Research Unit in Engineering Sciences (RUES) at University of Luxembourg. 

Claude Wolf is a senior lecturer in civil and mechanical engineering at the University of Luxembourg, Kirchberg. His academic expertise is in computer aided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM) rapid prototyping and 3D printing. He is also a champion of open source design and upcycling through additive.

3D Printing: The Next 5 years by Claude Wolf – Into the Future engineered by the Zs

The future of 3D Printing or Additive Manufacturing [AM] will be driven by the next generation of engineers who are just about to qualify, the Z generation (1994-2010). Do we, educators, know this Z generation? Do we know what motivates them?

The Z generation is a generation of digital natives interacting with PCs, iPads, smartphones and the internet since birth, a pragmatic and short term orientated generation. Our prejudice brands them as unprepared and unmotivated, with their 10 second attention spans, but in reality, they have already proven they are creative, determined and hardworking as well as team oriented, when they are given the opportunity. They have understood that 3D printing offers them this opportunity.

3D printing project based learning (PBL) at the University of Luxembourg. Photo by Claude Wolf
3D printing project based learning (PBL) at the University of Luxembourg. Photo by Claude Wolf

Project Based Learning [PBL] using 3D Printing – A Generation Z suited to the third Industrial Revolution

Unfortunately, we often hear that Z engineers show low motivation and interest during lectures. During my classes, it became evident to me that this generation also have standard traditional values such as face to face communication, team orientation and engagement.

They have diverse and numerous social activities, are keenly looking for career opportunities and are also extremely motivated when they consider the project is meaningful. At the University of Luxembourg, we have developed and increased Project Based Learning in Machine Design lectures using Additive Manufacturing.

It is impressive and rewarding to see the students’ engagement and motivation for these projects. 3D printing arouses their full attention and allow students to create and test their engineering systems. PBL gives Z engineers the opportunity to engage and express their motivation and passion. 3D printing becomes therefore the essential tool.

The objective of such PBL is to support our Z mechanical engineers to:

  • Understand the limitations and capabilities of AM technology, and to find work-around solutions
  • Understand the Hardware, Software, Process and characterize the mechanical properties of developed systems
  • Integrate AM early in concept phase
  • Know to differentiate and use AM and conventional manufacturing technology
  • Be free from the concept of Design for Manufacturing, their education will be based around a Design without manufacturing limitations
  • Encourage their creativity and capacity for exploration and conception of ideas
  • Build prototypes, Create new Products
  • Experiment, develop, test and optimize new ideas
  • Gain working knowledge of design tools
  • Transform Virtual models into physical ones

Z engineers will henceforth have the potential to increase the ‘phygitalisation’ capability of 3D printing in the coming years, blending the physical and digital world of 3D models.

The entire Z generation assumes technology can do everything and 3D printing is the perfect tool to illustrate this idea. The Z generation will demonstrate how 3D printing can serve just causes and purposes; whilst additionally improving our world by re-cycling, up-cycling, saving energy and establishing a greater degree of sustainability.

Sustainability and Additive Manufacturing – upcycling using AM

With sustainability in mind, I aspired to develop a system that demonstrates how 3D printing can enhance the circular economy with committed students. The upAM system was developed by several students doing the Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Luxembourg.

This system proposes to close the loop of a product’s life, from waste materials to new up-cycled products, using AM. The new generation of Z engineers naturally consider development constraints such as materials recycling, limiting waste production and limitation of resources and energy saving.

Materials recycling process from Wolf's UpAM project. Image by Claude Wolf
Materials recycling process from Wolf’s upAM project. Image by Claude Wolf

The developed system has an educational purpose and intends to demonstrate to the public at large, as well as to future Z students, how a new way of thinking and manufacturing can contribute to our daily life. The goal is to demonstrate how engineers benefit and contribute to our society.

Through PBL and upAM, future engineers focus on making better products using the full capabilities of AM, for example, by creating organic design or lattice structures, reducing mass, improving structural behavior, increasing product life and generating more sustainable systems. It also demonstrates how mechanical engineering has evolved and adapted to

Upcyling and additive manufacturing system developed by Wolf and his team at the University of Luxembourg. Photo by Claude Wolf
Upcyling and additive manufacturing (upAM) system developed by Wolf and his team at the University of Luxembourg. Photo by Claude Wolf

needs of our society.

The project consists of the development of a FDM printer and a shredder, as currently it is using a commercial extruder. Tests are ongoing to define re-cyclable polymers from everyday life products. The project is open source and all details can be found at our dedicated site. An economic model could be to equip FabLabs with upAM system and therefore allow makers to up-cycle their wasted or non-wanted polymers into added value products.

The coming generation of engineers will combine the 3rd Industrial Revolution with industry 4.0 in order to develop smarter, sustainable, low energy systems for a better world. In the age of mass customization, Z engineers dealing with Z customers, will find the solutions with AM.

We, educators, must encourage and give them the appropriate support to enable them to fully develop their confidence and abilities. The Zs are eager to use and develop 3D printing beyond today’s limitation. Our world will benefit from their innovations and ideas brought into the light using 3D printing. Z engineers will 3D print our future!

You can read more articles in our future of 3D printing series here. If you’re interested in sharing your own perspective with our readers, then email us now.

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