Additive Manufacturing Education Part 3: Curriculum reveiw



With advances in Additive Manufacturing technologies, the engineering education curriculum will have to be re-engineered to address AM implementation challenges. This article surveyed key initiatives proposed for changing the paradigm of AM education and presented necessary amendments in undergraduate and graduate engineering courses. While several programs are formalizing 3D printing and Additive Manufacturing, especially at the graduate level, there are opportunities and challenges developing educational programs that can leverage or serve to contextualize engineering education research.

Developing a Framework for an AM Curriculum Leveraging Engineering Education Research

In recent reports, the following issues served as potential road blocks for universities to inculcate Additive manufacturing into their curriculum:

  • Expensive initial costs of software and hardware
  • Rapidly evolving technology makes defining the content tricky (DFAM)
  • Definition of skillsets required for AM engineers
  • Interdisciplinary skillsets for AM professionals to “connect the dots” between disciplines

The pace of innovation in Additive Manufacturing makes it tricky for educational institutions to keep up. One way to address this issue could be by conducting ‘Knowledge update sessions’ within the ecosystem where students and educators share the latest news in the industry thereby creating a co-learning environment. Also, frequent technology transfer sessions could be conducted by AM companies on campus. The NSF workshop on AM suggested that an AM curriculum should provide the understanding of both traditional and additive processes which would help students to make process selection decisions. Design for AM and the process-material property structure relationships can also be included. The skillsets required for an AM engineer would be a broad topic to address owing to the breadth of industries which concern Additive manufacturing. Some of the main areas which could lead to holistic content creation can be described from Figure 1.

Of course, there are limitations to incorporating authentic AM education, one of which is the high initial costs of procuring AM machines and software. This issue could be mitigated by industry – academia collaboration. Many original equipment manufacturers prefer an academic partner as a third eye to assess their products capabilities through unbiased and independent research. Some public and private universities like Penn State and Arizona State University have already taken advantage of this situation. National Science Foundation’s Rapid Tech program aims to aid adoption of AM within the industry and educators. America Makes is accelerating the adoption of additive manufacturing technologies in the United States to increase domestic manufacturing competitiveness. This public-private partnership is the nation’s leading partner in AM research, discovery, creation and innovation and offers apprenticeships, co-ops, and educational facilities to promote 3D-printing and Additive manufacturing education.

Within these curricular suggestions, we propose that the engineering education research community begin to employ the context of AM education to consider foundational topics such as cognition, learning, diversity and inclusion, and workforce development. We see several areas where engineering education research can be applied, tested, and created. While we see great opportunity for studying foundational engineering education processes in graduate students specializing in AM, these topics can be extended to specialized undergraduate courses.

  1. Opportunities for learning science, online education, and workforce development. While a great deal of research has been accomplished in active learning and best practices for undergraduate engineering, very little classroom research has been accomplished at the graduate level, especially confounded by the interdisciplinary nature of AM. Similarly, while design thinking research is well established as a topic of specialty in engineering education, the EER community has yet to apply rigorous design thinking methods to Additive manufacturing, only beginning to be explored. A recent experiment from Prabhu explored the characteristics of DFAM education on the cognitive essence of student’s creativity. The study used possible combinations of no, restrictive, and dual DFAM principles and concluded that students learning the overall aspects of DFAM improve their self-efficacy. Another paper from the group investigates the importance of timing in effectiveness of DFAM education. An important observation is made that introducing DFAM concepts at an earlier stage improves students perceiving utility. A valuable take away from their work is that introducing Additive manufacturing education at an early-career level proves to be advantageous and aids in effective learning. Additional potential overarching research questions the Engineering Education research community could contribute to solving include
  • How can online, remote, or virtual educational environments be designed to harness best practices in active learning developed for residential classrooms?
  • How can best practices developed for undergraduate students be adapted to meet the needs of adult learners?
  • How do practicing manufacturers “unlearn” methods for traditional manufacturing and adapt to changing advantages and limitations for additive manufacturing?
  • How can large-scale efforts for workforce development be translated to target different workforce levels?
  1. Investigation of the development of interdisciplinary and agile expertise. The context of AM as an inherently interdisciplinary environment merging several engineering sciences and extended to various applications (e.g., medical, automotive, aerospace) requires that we have a better understanding of how graduate students, researchers, and leading experts develop interdisciplinary expertise and learn to work on diverse teams to conduct team research. Further research needs to be performed to identify differences and effects of engagement on benchmarking practices on fixation, creativity and designer cognitive workload. Research questions of interest to engineering education researchers might include
  • How do experts and graduate students develop interdisciplinary expertise?
  • What experiences are necessary to promote transfer of principles from more formal educational opportunities to hands-on educational or practice activities?
  • How do experts integrate multidisciplinary knowledge in diverse teaming experiences, and how can these skills and practices be translated into authentic practice experiences in the graduate (or undergraduate) curriculum?
  • How do theories of distributed cognition and transfer apply in cross-disciplinary, interdisciplinary, and multidisciplinary teams of experts in graduate school and in practitioners?
  • How do research topics like ideation, fixation, prototyping, and communication manifest in Additive Manufacturing?
  1. Considering belongingness, diversity, and inclusion in Additive Manufacturing. The emergence of AM as an expertise has inherent issues with accessibility, since 3D printers and materials are expensive and not typically available to all universities. There is an element of trendiness and exclusion to the formal Additive Manufacturing research community. Manufacturing as a discipline, too, holds considerable stereotypes of being highly male dominated, and comprised of manufacturers from other generations that may seem exclusionary to women or engineers from traditionally underrepresented populations.  Ironically, this exclusion is at odds with the rapid prototyping/3D printing movement which targeted the inclusionary “Maker movement” which has claimed to increase participation of general audiences in engineering and technology. Further, the Additive manufacturing design process is a fairly experience- and intuition-driven   Due to this reason, new engineers entering the AM design profession undergo a longer learning period and must rely on experienced designers for help in effective decision making. A systematic observation and analysis of these activities could help in breaking down the intuitive approach and analyzing the logic behind every key decision. This could mitigate the entry barrier wall for budding designers in AM and the over-dependability on self-learned AM designers. Research questions that Engineering Education research could answer include
  • Who is entering into graduate programs for Additive Manufacturing and design? How can programs be designed for inclusivity?
  • If graduate programs target people working in industry, how can programs be inclusive to women, single-parents, and people with infants, families, or elder-care responsibilities?
  • What are the perceived barriers to entrance into the AM community of practice?
  • What educational opportunities can leverage online learning to be as inclusive as possible to spread information widely?
  • How do graduate students affiliated with AM prepare themselves for faculty careers or industry careers? What elements of professional development should be built into graduate degree programs with respect to non-industry focus AM scientists seeking research careers?


The purpose of this paper was to review educational literature related to the discipline of Additive Manufacturing, while situating opportunities for rigorous and foundational engineering education initiatives within AM. The emergent state of AM education necessitates the inclusion of engineering education research efforts to tackle underlying issues as the field emerges, such as those related to curriculum, teaching and learning; development of expertise; and diversity, equity, and inclusion. Many of these focuses will be applicable to graduate-level engineering education, because of the specialization and development of expertise that AM requires; however, our vision for engineering education research in Additive Manufacturing can be extended to specialized undergraduate programs or courses as well.

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