Educational institutions, and especially universities, are relatively quick to adopt new technologies that are used in the real economy. The reason is that otherwise the outgoing students are insufficiently trained for professional life and don’t serve their community purpose. In addition, new devices enable extraordinary ways to go as, for example, research with 3D printing shows.
In this blog post, we show a first approach how universities can enable their students to discover new insights in their field. Due to the wide range of possibilities, we did not focus on specific courses and disciplines. Rather, we point out a generic way that any enthusiast can implement in his organization. This describes a step-by-step approach whereby relatively rigid state educational institutions can gradually approach the topic.
5 steps to research with 3D printers
At each point, the university and participating professors must jointly consider which answer or approach suits their topic. Of course, the existing budgets and the goal also play an important role. In our observation, many necessary steps are skipped and one goes straight to the purchase of a 3D printer.
Still, buying a device does not mean researching 3D printers for a long time. This step is followed by euphoria and interest, according to which a very depressing sobriety follows with the question “And now?”. Therefore, we recommend the 5 step process adding your own adjustments and improvements along the way.
Step 1: 3D printing basic knowledge
Most universities currently purchase devices out of interest from their mechanical engineering department. This is because they mainly see the 3D printer as a research object in itself. You can do that, however, we recommend that you first learn in a group the basics of 3D printing technology, before you start working with 3D printers. Such circles include professors, interested students and potential experts. In it, simple things can be done, like going through one of the entry-level books, discuss potential use-cases, etc. With this information you can understand your requirements for a 3D Printer in much more detail which is extremely helpful later on to save costs in the long-term
Step 2: Analyze the subject and discover potentials
The goal of such groups and events, as mentioned in Step 1, is the exchange of knowledge and the recognition of opportunities. Especially at practical forums with external speakers and experts that have the necessary experience.
With a more detailed analysis and listing of all core competencies of your faculty, university and study courses, special topics that suit 3D printing may arise. These can be sorted by a prioritization or benefit analysis to describe more detailed considerations for initial research. It helps a lot at the beginning to agree on a few and promising approaches to allocate the knowledge and resources later on.
Step 3: Analyze approaches to 3D printing research
Once you finish the first steps, it will take a meeting to transform initial insights into remaining topic collections. These are not actual experiments, but rather more specific considerations. For example, in economics faculties, the topics of marketing, sales, value chain and accounting may be connected to 3D printing or maybe not at all.
For example sales and marketing have a great sales tool 3D Printing as they can prototype products and have several test runs with customers in a very short period of time. But it may be that the group decides to explore a rather different connection with 3D printing and accounting.
Step 4: Perform experiments
There are innumerable accountings question to clarify about 3D printing. How do you account the depreciation when technologies revolutionize so fast that you can hardly keep track of them? How do misprints and material consumption count here? What exactly are variable costs in this case and what are fixed costs? Does only the material count as variable and the current as a fix or both variable? What about the cost of maintenance? And so on …
As you can see, all of a sudden you come into research with 3D printers. It’s amazing how much research has already been done on topics like 3D Bioprinting as you can see on Science Direct. Of course, it can also happen that the research does not solve a problem in the future. Still, finding out that certain areas are not really affected by the technology enables you to find the connections that are.
As described, participants like to buy a device and jump right to that point. Of course, manufacturers are happy about it and talk about the successes of other educational institutions that have mutated into leading researchers. But that is exactly the point of our 5 steps, you still do not need a 3D Printer in our example till this point. You can play through the process on a mental ideation level, access existing service providers, conduct research, contact other universities or schools and, of course, inquire directly with companies. Perhaps these have accounting challenges through the use of additive manufacturing technologies.
Step 5: Evaluation and improvement
The 5th and final step in 3D printer research is similar to any other analytical work. After the work is done, there is more work to be done, as analysis is needed. If we find a mistake or lack of knowledge in our bookkeeping, then it goes back to steps 1 and 2. If the experiments show that the subject area of the bookkeeping is less interesting than initially thought, then this has an impact on the choice for step 3.
Ultimately, it is a cycle with an inherent 3D printing learning journey to achieve successes and insights. The team and the group are evolving and driving the field of study through innovative 3D printing research. This will possibly attract media attention and definitely drive the conversation at your institute. At this point, there are first benefits presentable to provide strong arguments in the next budget allocation. This is especially true because the research work shows you your own requirements helping you to find the perfect device (our assorted selection of 3D printersalso helps). And they are usually a lot cheaper than you think and what you would otherwise buy 😉
Conclusion for research with 3D printers
For those who want to delve into this area and explore synergy effects to their own competence, there are many ways. The direct route to the 3D printer is not always the smartest, although it often makes sense. We recommend at least these 5 steps to go through and see if the entry from 0 to 100 is the right one. Of course we are happy to answer any questions via our contact form.
Otherwise, we wish you all the best!