Teachers Learn to Use 3D Printers

October 22, 2014 | Education, Politics

By Michael Hill

Who would have ever thought the Department of Defense would have a workshop to teach the nuts and bolts of 3D printing to a group of teachers?

“It is exciting. It’s exciting for the teachers. It’s exciting for students,” said Madelaine Travaille.

Travaille teaches biology and environmental science at High Point Regional High School in Sussex County.

She’s one of nearly two dozen teachers who’ve come to the Department of Defense’s Picatinny Aresenal in Morris County to fine tune or learn from scratch how to 3D print.

“We’re trying to teach people how to use it. It seems kind of new and big and scary and our goal is to get out there and enable all the people feel like they can jump in, start printing, start making cool stuff,” said MakerBot trainer Zachary Robinson.

How does it work? You make a design on a computer, send it to the printer and load the material.

“What a 3D printer does is, it has a plate called our build plate and what it does it kind of shoots this plastic filament. It works like a hot glue gun. Shoots filament out, it builds a 2D layer, and builds another layer, moves that build plate down and it keeps going and going and going until you have this 3D project,” Robinson explained.

As in this spool of filament becoming the gears for a project for Leo Inglima, a computer science and architecture teacher at Bloomfield High.

“I tell all the kids anything you can dream of, you can have and hold in your hands,” Inglima said.

A few years ago, the Department of Defense realized America was facing a severe shortage of engineers and scientists. And DOD decided it could do something about it. It could make sure teachers in the classroom had the technological know-how to inspire their students.

“It’s a fear for me because we really need to stay technology advanced in all of our areas for America to stay competitive and to keep the freedoms that we have,” said U.S. Army Engineer Ralph Tallinghast.

“It won’t matter if you want to open a flower shop. You won’t be able to do it without a technological background,” said Retired Col. Edward Petersen, program manager at Picatinny Arsenal.

“This is one of the things I’ve been waiting for for a long time,” said robotics teacher Mike Warholak of Bloomfield High. “I think it’s not only going to draw more kids in but I think it’s going to finely tune their skills because they’ve been indoctrinated in to a telephone mentality and they’re always playing with their cell phones and they’re always using their cell phones. They’re looking for something more and that’s what 3D printing does.”

The applications for 3D printing seem remarkable — a mechanical hand in one case, a small village of houses in China.

“We’re trying to get this in the hands of everybody so we can let them define the limits,” Robinson said.

Teacher Travaille already makes some of the equipment she uses in class instead of buying it, saving the district money.

“I’m going to go back and be able to tell the kids exactly what we can do with this and that will get them hooked and hopefully it will extend beyond just an interest,” she said.

That’s exactly what the Department of Defense wants.