3D Printing Is Child's Play Featured Pattern: P0808 August 2015

Although 3D printing is a novel manufacturing process, its first widespread users may be children, not professionals.

Abstracts in this Pattern:

China's academic institutions appear to be attempting to teach the nation's next generation of workers the skills they need to work in tomorrow's economy. XYZ Printing (New Kinpo Group; Taipei, Taiwan) is involved in a project to distribute 3D printers to each of China's 400,000 primary schools. XYZ Printing will be among the largest suppliers of printers for the 3D-printing-education project, but other manufacturers will provide printers for the schools as well. Providing so many schools with 3D printers represents a strong commitment to 3D-printing technology and its potential future impact on the economy.

Governments are not alone in aiming to encourage kids to use 3D-printing technology. Mattel (El Segundo, California) and Autodesk (San Rafael, California) have announced a partnership to create and distribute applications that enable children to design and print their own toys. Children will not need a home 3D printer: A dedicated facility will 3D print children's designs and ship the toys to children's homes. Autodesk claims that the applications will debut with its new 3D printer in late 2015. Presumably, Autodesk will encourage parents to buy the 3D printer to provide their children with instant gratification; however, parents may order prints of their children's designs if they do not have the budget or space for a home 3D printer. Mattel may choose to use some of the designs that children create as inspiration for new products or accessories to its current toy lines.

Innovations that enable the use of a wider variety of materials in 3D-printing applications may also contribute to 3D printing's becoming more accessible to children. In collaboration with researchers from Cornell University (Ithaca, New York) and Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), Disney Research (The Walt Disney Company; Burbank, California) has developed a prototype of a new 3D-printing device that creates soft, bendable objects by layering laser-cut fabric. Instead of depositing layer after layer of plastic, the device laser cuts adhesive fabric, aligns the layers of fabric, and uses heat to bond the layers into a solid object. The device is experimental, and how Disney will use aspects of the technology to address the toy market is unclear at this point. But perhaps children eventually will have access to similar machines—or machines with similar functionalities—to create their own toys at home.