The Exponential Curve: Is 3D Printing Dead?

Well that was a loaded question.  I remember when a teacher colleague of mine expressed those very words to me.  We were discussing plans on how to engage our students for the upcoming school year and when I brought up the topic of 3d printing I immediately heard those shocking words.  

Was he right? Did I just spend three years working on a process that was suddenly outdated and out-of-fashion?  Did I fail my students by not being on trend with the latest tools and technology for my classroom?  I couldn’t stop thinking about it for a few weeks.  It got to a point to where I made the decision to investigate that topic for myself and see what exactly was going in the 3D Print world. 

First let me give you the answer to today's question….No, 3D Printing in the classroom is not "dead", it’s going through something called  “the trough of disillusionment.”  

 

Let Me Explain

As a fan of technology you always hear about the latest and greatest tools of the trade.  Last year all the hype was around Artificial Intelligence and Cryptocurrency.  But about 4 years ago everyone was talking about 3d printing and how it would revolutionize manufacturing.  It was a pretty exciting time and even more exciting when I first received an industrial 3d printer for my classroom as a charitable donation.  I was excited and scared about the possibilities.  What on earth was I going to make? How do you teach students to use such a thing and what software could I use?

I didn’t let any of those uncertainties dissuade me because I knew that exponential technology follows a particular acceptance curve called the Gartner Hype Cycle.   

The Gartner hype cycle is a graphic representation of the maturity and adoption of technology.  It was created by the Gartner research company and they’ve successfully predicted how a group of people typically adopt technology and more importantly how it is applied in businesses and organizations.  

 

As you can see in the graphic there are 5 stages of acceptance : Innovation Trigger, Peak Expectations, Trough of Disillusionment, Slope of Enlightenment and Plateau of Productivity.  Remember the title of this post?  That question is common when you’re in the Trough of Disillusionment.  And wouldn’t you know there have been some talk about 3d printing in enterprises this past year and even the creation of 3D Printing innovations within the sneaker industry.  Ever heard of a little company called Adidas? Yeah last year they launched a 3d printed shoe called Futurecraft 4D.

 

The Takeaway

So If we were to take anything away from this chart the fact of the matter is that we’re really entering a period of innovation and enlightenment.  All the doubters are about to come to the conclusion that what they’ve been saying about 3d printing being "dead" was wrong.

 

But What About Education?

Good question.  The innovation is happening but it seems like it’s slightly behind the news of big companies. The problem is that companies that are innovating are making their case studies more specific and focused to customer segments within their industry.  We need to do the same with education and design systems and processes more targeted to teachers and their learning outcomes.  Are students making toys or tools?  Are they thinking about how things are made and what they can do to make it better and beautiful?  Do students have a sense agency and do they believe they can change something for the better?  

Better yet do you believe you can make a change in the world?  I certainly believe it and though I don’t have all the answers I do have the drive and experience to make something that can help my students and fellow teachers get to a better place.  I’d love to share it with you when we launch our site this year.   Happy New Year!