3D Printing

Virtual Lab Tour

Our very own Lauren Fridman explains how 3D printing is used in the STEAM 3D Makerlab.

An Introduction to 3D Printing

What is 3D Printing?

3D Printing, or additive manufacturing, is the process by which three-dimensional objects are created from digital files.

Additive manufacturing is the process of laying down successive layers of material until the object is complete. This process allows for a very stable, lightweight object to be created while limiting excessive use of resources thus lowering production costs.

While many commercial 3D printers use a corn-based plastic filament, other materials can be used depending on the application, such as metals, concrete, other plastics, and perhaps one day, human tissue.

The global 3D printing market is booming and is expected to exceed $21-billion in revenue by 2020. It has the power to transform almost every major industry currently in existence and will change the way we live, work, and play.

3D Modeling Software

Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software is widely available to users for the purpose of 3D modeling. These programs enable users to create digital objects in either the two-dimensional or three-dimensional world. Most CAD tools allow users to create, modify, analyze or optimize digital designs to suit the overall purpose of the object.

There are many options for the design software you choose to use, which will depend both on budget and level of ability. Higher-end industrial grade software can cost thousands of dollars annually (per license), but there are also a plethora of free open source tools available to users. The first step for users is to determine their comfort level with these CAD technologies and then find a program that fits their abilities and need.


Screen Shot 2016-10-26 at 10.30.14 PM

Tinkercad is a free online computer-aided design (CAD) software. It allows users to use simple drag and drop technology to create a 3D print file (.stl) which can then be printed on most 3D printers on the market. Tinkercad can be utilized for any curricular subject, the only limit is the creativity of the user.

Types of 3D Modeling

Parametric Modeling: 

  • Objects are built from a set of mathematical equations.
  • Often based on “real world” project data and parameters.
  • Use feature-based, solid and surface modeling tools to manipulate attributes of the system.
  • Attributes are intertwined so when an adjustment is made, it affects all facets of the design.

Direct or Explicit Modeling: 

  • Uses a database of pre-existing geometric shapes and models.
  • Objects are modified through pushing, pulling, or twisting (Boolean operations).
  • Often much simpler for beginner users of CAD software.

Introduction to 3D Scanning

3D scanning is a non-contact and non-destructive tool that captures the shape of physical objects using a line of laser light. These scanners allow users to collect an object’s exact dimensions and recreate it in a digital form that can then be manipulated or utilized.

Curriculum Connections: Primary (Grades 1 – 3)

Grade 1

Understanding Structures and Mechanisms: Materials, Objects, and Everyday Structures

  • 3.2 – Describe structures as supporting frameworks.
  • 3.5 – Identify the materials that make up objects and structures.
  • 3.7 – Describe the properties of materials that enable the objects and structures made from them to perform their intended function.

Understanding Earth and Space Systems: Daily and Seasonal Changes

Grade 2

Understanding Life Systems: Growth and Changes in Animals

  • 3.1 – Identify and describe major physical characteristics of different types of animals.

Understanding Structures and Mechanisms: Movement

  • 3.4 – Describe how each type of simple machine allows humans to move objects with less force than otherwise would be needed
  • 3.5 – Identify simple machines used in devices that move people.

Grade 3 

Understanding Life Systems: Growth and Changes in Plants

  • 2.2 – Observe and compare the parts of a variety of plants.

Understanding Structures and Mechanisms: Strong and Stable Structures

  • 3.3 – Identify the strength of a structure as its ability to support a load.
  • 3.4 – Identify the stability of a structure as its ability to maintain balance and stay fixed in one spot.

Curriculum Connections: Junior (Grades 4 – 6)

Grade 4

Understanding Structures and Mechanisms: Pulleys and Gears

  • 3.1 – Describe the purposes of pulley systems and gear systems.

Understanding Matter and Energy: Light and Sound

  • 1.2 – Assess the impacts on society and the environment of light and/or sound energy produced by different technologies, taking different perspectives into account.

Understanding Earth and Space Systems: Rocks and Minerals

  • 3.4 – Describe the characteristics of the three classes of rocks.

Grade 6 

Understanding Life Systems: Biodiversity

  • 3.2 – Demonstrate an understanding of biodiversity as the variety of life on earth, including variety within each species of plant and animal, among species of plants and animals in communities, and among communities and the physical landscapes that support them.

Understanding Structures and Mechanisms: Flight

  • 3.1 – Identify the properties of air that make flight possible.
  • 3.2 – Identify common applications of the properties of air, such as its compressibility and insulating qualities.

Understanding Earth and Space Systems: Space

  • 3.4 – Identify the technological tools and devices needed for space exploration.

Curriculum Connections: Intermediate (Grades 7 – 8)

Grade 7

Understanding Life Systems: Interactions in the Environment

  • 1.1 – Assess the impact of selected technologies on the environment.
  • 3.8 – Describe ways in which human activities and technologies alter balances and interactions in the environment.

Understanding Structures and Mechanisms: Form and Function

  • 2.2 – Design, construct, and use physical models to investigate the effects of various forces on structures.
  • 2.3 – Investigate the factors that determine the ability of a structure to support a load.

Grade 8

Understanding Life Systems: Cells

  • 3.3 – Compare the structure and function of plant and animal cells.

Industry Connections

Medical Industry:

  • Bio-Printing
    • Potential for use in tissue engineering and similar applications.
    • Layers of living cells are deposited into a gel-based medium and slowly built up into a three-dimensional structure.
  • Planning and Practice
    • Prior to conducting major surgeries, surgeons can print anatomically correct versions of the patient’s organ.
    • They can take these models and plan their best course of action to ensure best results for patients.

Aerospace and Aviation:

  • Typically would utilize Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) technology.
    • An additive manufacturing technology.
    • Involves laying down materials in layers.
    • Allows for rapid prototyping and rapid manufacturing.
  • NASA has been known to use this type of 3D technology.
    • Designers can create digital files from Earth and send them up to the printer at the International Space Station.
    • Printing on demand can revolutionize longer distance journeys in space.
      • Changes the way supplies can be replaced.
      • Could allow for creation of objects that historically could not be launched into space.


Additive Manufacturing. (2016). AM basics. Retrieved from: http://additivemanufacturing.com/basics/ 

Kostakis, V., Niaros, V., & Giotitsas, C. (2015;2014;). Open source 3D printing as a means of learning: An educational experiment in two high schools in Greece. Telematics and Informatics, 32(1), 118-128. doi:10.1016/j.tele.2014.05.001

People’s Daily (2015), “China taps 3D printing consumer market”, available at: ht tp://en.people.cn/n/2015/0908/c202936-894 7367.html (9 September 2015).

http://morphosource.org/index.php/Browse/Index – MorphoSource also includes other lesson plans that have been created using the library’s 3D printer based on a collaboration of students, educators and scientists working with a collection of fossils and bones

Information for this page provided by Laura Dobos & Brendan Oldman.