3D Print Training

I recently (8/2020) received a request to teach three-dimensional printing to a middle school age student.  I felt a bit flattered. I decided the teaching offer needed a bit of thought on what that task requires. I have presented my (rambling) thoughts and concerns in this article:

I have a somewhat “natural ability” towards understanding electro-mechanical devices and complex process solving. Skills required to “master” 3-D printing. I am not sure if “natural ability” just means I don’t remember being taught formally.  We all learn through some process. For me I know it has not all been through a structured formal classroom environment.

However, I have spent a huge amount of formal classroom time both as a student and an instructor. It’s absolutely a necessary beneficial step before jumping into the pilot’s seat of that Jumbo-jet.

Manual skills are learned by association. Reading and study gets the human brain understanding a task but does not replace the hands-on apprentice-to-craftsperson mastering of a process. The master/apprentice is not A fast-track METHOD, but it is the best form of skill learning. One does not get to play at Carnegie Hall by simply reading the music.

I am asking myself, if I have the time and desire to generate a formal education process. I once spent more than a year (with several other people) developing a “5-Star HVAC Dealer” training manual and course. We then went out into the real world (nationwide USA) and taught our course face-to-face for several more years. Next we passed that training course onto other instructors in our corporate training division.

My team effectively refined and conditioned our training program over those years, so it could be taught by others not so intensely associated with the instructional materials.

I went through the same process in a “Sub-Contractor Training and Qualification” course I developed in another large corporation, where I again traveled the USA for several years, delivering weeklong training sessions.  I fine-tuned the training until I could release a training package for regional trainers. Freeing my time for the next major career assignment.

Point is I know what is required for creating effective structured condensed training before going public.

Teaching a youth all that is needed to master and enjoy 3-D printing a complex activity in a fragmented (sessional) teaching environment, is in itself, a very complex process. A double whammy. There is no time to build the one-on-one apprentice type training. But with any training there are expectations. The offer to “pay me” for the effort, puts even more desire on my part to make sure I can deliver some amount of “results” to a reasonable expected level.

Dimensional printing is not a push-button-to-start, automatic process. There are pre-requisites I have not thought about that are certainly necessary before “teaching” 3D printing.  I have a 60-year learned skill set, not embedded into the mind of a 12-year-old.

The best I think  I can offer is to be a “mentor” to a self-starter on an “as-needed” basis.  Not teaching for payment as a job, separate from the actual enjoying of my craft.

The old-school apprentice-learning was a form of hired help. The Master used his apprentice for the less enjoyable aspects of his craft. The apprentice and Master were BOTH “rewarded” by this constant give and take exposure of skill sets and problem-solving of the Master.  Both the Master and the apprentice received mutual benefit. Both were certainly associated with each other on a consistent, probably daily basis.

There is no such mutual benefit in  pay-for-teaching, unless all I need is the income. At this point in my life, cash is nice but less important. I have to decide if I can enjoy the time allotted to a teaching job in what has been a simple retirement activity..

I also don’t think what happens in 3D printing can be taught like a 45 minute piano lesson. I show a new technique, go practice it alone for a week.

A three-dimensional printer is a tool (the piano). Learning how to set it up and turn it on is rather easy. Mastering the skills to make it play the music is a much larger task. Is teaching 3D printing, just getting the printer working or is it “playing the music”? What are the expectations?…

Long term training? Long term support? Short term getting started?

Perhaps what’s needed is a local community mentoring club group.  A forum or community web site share group. Group conferencing video sessions.

3D Print Operator

From what I can gather from further review is that classroom (grade school) 3D print training is  about design more than machine maintenance/operation.  The teacher controls most if not all operation of the printer, print settings, print queues, etc. Usually using a reliable higher end machine. Probably all PLA filament without straying into any exotic materials.  The education is more about design/making something. 

This is good, but not the same as a kid trying to manage print fails and printer maintenance on his own printer.

When I was in middle school (Junior High in those days, late 50’s), shop classes were still required. We learned how to “operate” the machine tools but nothing I can recall about maintenance upkeep and repair.  Of course a machine tool was much more durable than a typical 3D printer today, but some students still found ways to break things.  We did end training with a finished product we “created” and there was some effort for personal project design. I had metal shop, wood shop, and hand Type Setting printing classes. 

I hope (in this new “Maker” age) there is a “theory of 3D printing” before getting into design. The kids need an understanding of the process and all the effects all the variables control.

My assumption is a classroom full of kids wanting to get their project printed, not much classroom time available for each student to solve their own set of 100 variables, required to get a good print. Unless there are many machines available. Controlled or accidental fails may be permitted or demonstrated by the teacher, as examples of what can go wrong. 

So, I imagine a small class of 15 students, each with a tiny one-hour print, requires two full class-days of production running. Unless there are 15 machines available.

Advanced students may get the chance to experiment after class on special projects. All depends on the teacher/student and school policy.

I wonder how the teacher receives their operational maintenance training. How much do they pass on to students? I have no classroom 3D print experience. I am surmizing. Some students may never “get it”. Others may dive right into every detail and want more.

Obviously, I have been thinking about how training should proceed if I was teaching. I would start with full theory of additive manufacturing and FDM printing in particular. What CNC is and how it works. 

What got to me yesterday, was a TV program I watched. It was about “Great Factories in the World”.  The one common theme with every “ GREAT factory” was the huge amount of automation. One was the VW assembly plant in the USA, Another was a huge  coffee roasting business in Italy.  But one was an electric guitar factory in Asia, China or Japan. 

One comment slammed me full force. The guitar body was shown being carved by CNC on an assembly line. The comment was, “This demonstrates how a mere (lowly) machine “operator” can produced high accuracy parts. Needing none of the knowledge or abilities of a highly skilled wood working artist.”

They showed a line-person removing a finished carving, inserting a new block of wood, pushing start. End of skills required.

Yipe!  factories and automation de-humanize the creative process. People become “mere tool operators”. Loading material and pressing “Start”.

True statement, but it bothered me. I think this is why I distain the mass production aspect of CNC. I want to use CNC to increase (my) abilities, not create a mass production assembly line.

Again, I hope 3D printing training is encouraging design/engineering/art far more than machine operator training. 

I think in my situation, the request was for machine operation training. “Teach my kid how to 3D print.” should be so much more than that.  

The “MAKER” movement seems to be the proper concept, but it had/has its own problem with funding and sustainability. Community workshops full of tools and knowledgable assistance is a lofty ideal, but need to generate a return on the investment.

Where does one go to learn? Self education/reading/trying is a lost art. We have long been told, accredited learning requires a formal classroom/instructor environment. Keeping “teachers” employed. <grin>

Yes, formal training is one of the best (only?) ways to learn brain surgery, but not the only one for less critical tasks. Instructor training absence has become an excuse not to try.