Higher education needs to catch up

When we think of the adoption of new technology, our minds might think of colleges and university standing with open arms. But there’s something happening, or more accurately not happening, in some engineering departments – the curriculum just is not keeping pace with the current state of additive manufacturing.


Pierogis, like university curricula, move at different speeds.

To understand the impact of 3D printing on engineering students, we spoke with Professor Sagar Kamarthi, Associate Professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at Northeastern University. We began our conversation asking how 3D printing was affecting coursework for young engineers when Professor Kamarthi laid it out flat,

The curriculum hasn’t caught up, and universities haven’t leveraged it enough.

He acknowledged the importance of 3D printing in manufacturing, and its potential in nanoscale and microscale component production, and the promise of wide scale 3D printed circuits (his research interests cover advanced manufacturing, personalized disease management, sensor-based diagnostics and prognostics). But in his corner of academia, he’s not seeing advances in incorporating 3D printing into engineering courses.

3D printing limited to "significant" projects

Professor Kamarthi says that “few courses currently take advantage of 3D printing.” Why not, we asked? He told us “use of 3D printing is still limited to significant projects, not everyday assignments. It’s because of cost and availability.” That said, Northeastern engineering students completing their Capstone project have access to 3D printing equipment to create a physical artifact or to print final components while solving an industrial scale project.

That said, Northeastern engineering students completing their capstone project have access to 3D printing equipment to create a physical artifact or to print final components while solving an industrial scale project.

He uses the prevalence of color poster printers for comparison, “today they’re necessary and every school has them for engineering student to print projects. In the future, 3D printers will further enable students to show their work.”

According to Professor Kamarthi 3D printers are more prevalent in high schools than colleges,

They’re having a bigger impact on STEM programs and students are arriving with more skills. But if you take how many kids know how to model a part with CAD and print, it is still a small percentage.

This leads to a conversation of where best to include additive manufacturing tools at Northeastern. Professor Kamarthi has a solid idea,

[AM tools] could be useful if a basic skills program is incorporated into the first year curriculum that’s common to all engineering students.

Would that solve the problem? Not really, since 3D printing may not appear in post-freshman-year courses.

Professors should make extra effort to leverage and learn 3D printing technology

Once that happens, he feels professors will still need incentives to create a 3D printer based homework plan. Again, he makes a comparison, “Do you remember when gaming was just starting to be used as a learning tool? It was attractive but is hasn’t become commonplace. It’s only being used by professors who are very interested in it.” And that’s a truth – people will only passionately share with others the things they’re passionate about themselves.

Maybe for some in academia, 3D printing still remains a relative novelty that’s hard to get excited about without wide scale application. Maybe the issue is that there are only so many hours in the day and learning new material takes time. Then there’s the issue of working it into course work means leaving other material out.

What do you think?

What do you think will change the situation? Lower cost? Greater availability? Increased need from industry?

Do you know of an engineering program at the forefront of additive manufacturing? If so, share it with us in the comments.


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