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Additive Manufacturing and Education in the Upstate

September 13, 2017
As we discussed in our previous post, Additive Manufacturing and Upstate Industries, South Carolina’s Upstate region is home to many companies on the forefront of technology, using additive manufacturing in design, production and other industrial applications. 
Additive manufacturing, or the building of three-dimensional objects by adding layer upon layer of material, now plays a role in Upstate classrooms as well. The technology, supported by curricula focused on engineering, design and computer modeling software, is preparing South Carolina students for the jobs of the future.

Industry Supporting Education

Additive manufacturing has changed the face of the industry, and many of its leaders want to prepare the next wave of innovators for what’s to come. Seeing 3-D printing’s impact on their business, Sealevel CEO Tom O’Hanlan and his colleagues became determined to expose a new generation of designers and engineers to the technology. 
Working with other community leaders, they spearheaded the providing of a 3-D printing lab to Easley’s R. H. Gettys Middle School. Jonathan Scrivner, STEAM educator for Pickens County Schools and Gettys’ teacher of the year, operates the lab and sees firsthand the value of putting 3-D printers into young hands. 
“Through some conversations with Tom O’Hanlan and Manufacturers Caring for Pickens County, we got a state-of-the-art resource for our students,” he says. “We use them to model student work and we have 3-D printed a prosthetic hand for a sixth-grade student at Wren Middle School in Piedmont. More than being a cool experience for the students, these projects teach them about problem-solving, CAD software and additive manufacturing as a career possibility.”

“While our younger classes may create keychains or other trinkets, our older students have developed the skills to print a prosthetic hand/arm combination for their assistant principal, Mr. Strickland. Having them design printable objects within their skill sets has been tremendous.”
“Our 3-D printing program gives students the confidence to identify a need and know they can design a solution for it. For Mr. Strickland’s prosthetic hand and arm, it was no problem for our kids to customize a solution, prototype it with our printer, print the final product and put it to use. They can design tailored solutions to their own real-world problems.”
It’s about much more than the “wow” factor around 3-D printing, Scrivner emphasizes. “The fact that my students can think through a problem and tailor a solution is the most powerful and lasting takeaway from this curriculum. Technology changes all the time, and they’re used to that. It’s learning to get the desired result on their own that matters.”

Preparing the Next Generation of Workers

The Upstate recently became home to a center designed to introduce additive manufacturing to students past their secondary school years. The Greenville Technical College Center for Manufacturing Innovation (CMI) is a one-stop shop for additive manufacturing, providing technician training, continuing education, manufacturing research, a modern-manufacturing museum and manufacturing services for the Upstate. “First and foremost,” says David Clayton, director of CMI, “We are a school. We just have a lot of additional offerings.”
While local businesses can use CMI’s 3-D printing capabilities, school groups can tour its exhibits (including the GE “Bridge to Learning” area), start-ups can grow in its incubator and manufacturers can employ its continuing education curricula, the center’s primary focus remains educating the Upstate’s up-and-coming workforce. 
“What we are most excited about, why we invest in this curriculum and equipment, is that nearly every manufacturer in our region is using 3-D printing or considering how they should. We are equipping our students to have immediate success in the manufacturing industry, and to provide innovative thinking to whatever problem they face.”
Upstate students who have experience in additive manufacturing before they pursue higher education are at a distinct advantage. “By the time our students finish high school,” Scrivner adds, “they could have CAD software certifications and take that to manufacturing or engineering companies, stepping into the workforce with the knowledge they need, no on-the-job training required. They’ll be more hirable and start at a higher pay grade.” 
Clayton also emphasizes the value of up-to-date technological experience and certifications for Greenville Technical College’s students; its offerings in additive manufacturing expand by the semester. 
Area students are having fun experimenting with this 3-D printing now, but there are real-world payoffs later, both for the workforce and the Upstate’s manufacturing industry itself.

Continuous Evolution

Additive manufacturing, as it becomes more widely adopted, has a limitless future in classrooms, on plant floors and in design labs around the world. Here in the Upstate, Pickens County students are working with retired Upstate engineers out of Furman University, designing a myoelectric, bionic hand. Actuators will push and pull the tendons to activate the hands, which will be 3-D printed. 
“In this environment,” Scrivner says, “you are always chasing the next technology, and you cannot keep up with the changes. There is tremendous value already in additive manufacturing, and it’s evolving in a way that’s fast and furious,” he explains. “Using 3-D printing is about much more than just wanting to try the next and biggest thing – but we still are.”
TOPICS: Manufacturing, Innovation, Education, Technical College System, Technology