The RepRap 3-D Printer Revolution in STEM Education

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date



Department of Manufacturing and Mechanical Engineering Technology; Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering; Department of Materials Science and Engineering; Department of Engineering Fundamentals


The RepRap 3-D Printer Revolution in STEM Education Attendees will understand the advantages and challenges of entering the world of open-source 3-D printing for the good of STEM education. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) place explicit emphasis on the relationship of engineering to science while it features a number of “Disciplinary Core Ideas” such as “Engineering, Technology, and Applications of Science”. These core ideas are in fact what are being taught in most Engineering Technology (ET) curricula as the “Engineering Process” or “Design Process”. The NGSS guidelines outline this as aniterative process involving; defining the problem, developing possible solutions, and optimizing design solutions. The NGSS guidelines for K-12 science education are present at all grade levels at varying degrees of detail. One of the recommendations of the ASME Vision 2030 report is that Mechanical Engineering Technology (MET) programs should strive towards creating curricula that inspire innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship. A perfect tool for realizing these K-12 science standards and university program goals is the RepRap 3-D printer, claimed by its’ creators to be “humanity’s first general-purpose self-replicating manufacturing machine”. The RepRap Project is completely open-source with the intent to improve the design with each generation, adding revisions to the hardware as well as software capabilities. ET faculty and high school science teachers have a need to develop projects where students experience real-world examples of design-build-test accomplished in one or two semesters inexpensively, and with tangible results. In ET programs each student must complete a two semester capstone project sequence to meet the requirements for graduation and to comply with ABET standards. Several interdisciplinary student projects can be accomplished that involve creating new applications for open-source 3-Dprinters, improvements of the printers themselves or production of new printable designs. High school science teachers and university faculty have recently come together to embrace the open-source 3-D printing technology. An Innovative Additive Manufacturing (IAM) workshop was held in the summer of 2013 where twenty-four teachers in groups of two participated, and after 4 days of building and testing, each left with a working RepRap 3-D printer. In addition to the IAM workshop, two high school biology teachers attended a two week graduate level 2013 summer course, “The Engineering Process”, which is intended to introduce engineering to pre-college teachers by providing them with a meaningful experience about the process and methods that engineers use to solve problems. These two teachers built a RepRap in two days and then later with their biology students successfully printed a cogwheel for a mini centrifuge. The purchased components necessary to build the RepRap are largely available at hardware stores and also from several suppliers, costing approximately $550 compared to thousands for commercially available 3-D printers. The affordability of this do-it-yourself design and open sourcing lends itself to direct manipulation of the machine because no warranties are being voided as high school and/or university students “tinker” with mechanics of the 3-D printer and enjoy near-immediate gratification from experiencing the engineering process first hand.

Publication Title

2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition