Schools and universities are beginning to incorporate 3D printers into their curricula more often, and now make up the largest market for 3D printers under $2,500.
Contrary to expectations, educational institutions buy more 3D printers than individuals. The number of US schools that have 3D printers hasn't been quantified, but 5,000 schools have MakerBot's 3D printers, and they are only one of the major sellers. Others include Stratasys, 3D Systems, and Variquest.
3D printer purchases are expected to double in 2016 to 496,500 shipments. By 2019, numbers could reach 5.6 million. These statistics come from a report by Gartner Inc., an independent technology research company.
Pete Basiliere, research vice president at Gartner, said:
Rapid quality and performance innovations across all 3D printer technologies are driving both enterprise and consumer demand, with unit shipment growth rates for 3D printers increasing significantly. The 3D printer market is continuing its transformation from a niche market to a broad-based, global market of enterprises and consumers.
Lan Neugent, interim executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), said that technology and career faculty are often instrumental in school's 3D printer purchases. He said:
Educators understand that when children have the ability to see the results of their theoretical thinking in a concrete form, it brings reality to the classroom. As schools are working on STEM and college and career readiness, it's a natural progression that you would get a fairly inexpensive device to cut across those categories.
Some schools are adapting remarkably quickly. The Oakwood School in San Fernando Valley, California, has an entire 3D printing program at the core of its STEAM curriculum, writes Bridget Butler Millsaps of 3DPrint.com. Two school districts in Rhode Island, North Cumberland and McCourt, are incorporating 3D printers into middle school curricula, according to Brittany Ballantyne of the Valley Breeze.
Because of the 3D printer trend in schools, there is a growing demand for child-oriented computer-aided design (CAD) software that students can use to create 3D-printed objects, writes John Dogru of Tech Crunch.
There are already a few options for students. Apps like Zotebook.io allow users to draw 2D designs and convert them into 3D models for printing. FormZ for the computer comes with student licenses that allow high school and university students to access it for free for a year, where they can use its tutorials to learn how to use the professional-grade software.
Another app designed for young children is Dr. Fluff's Robot Factory for Android. Users create 3D models of fanciful robots, and teachers who don't have access to a 3D printer can send away for students' models via mail.
Much of the school market is outside of America, writes Alison DeNisco of District Administration. For example, China has made significant investments in 3D printing for schools, and the government plans to offer training to teachers so they can create 3D printing courses. The program will begin in elementary schools, according to a report from China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology entitled "National Additive Manufacturing Industry Promotion Plan 2015-2016."