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Design + Make — Start Early

Children start designing and making things from the time that they can hold a crayon and spill glue -- it comes naturally and is generally encouraged.

Education is often a central issue for governments and society in general -- in any part of the world. This is because the quality of the education that our children receive is directly proportional to the results that they achieve and the society that they will shape. I am of the opinion that a successful education system should fulfill fundamental academic standards while embracing individuality and offering access to a full range of hands-on experiences that inspire and offer them the opportunity to excel in their chosen career.

While I uphold this belief across the spectrum of subjects and disciplines within education systems, I have first hand knowledge and experience of applying this belief within the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) curriculums. Reverting to the issue that I addressed in my first column in this series -- that of accessibility -- the importance of making 3D digital technologies accessible to school-age children cannot be overstated.

Children start designing and making things from the time that they can hold a crayon and spill glue -- it comes naturally and is generally encouraged by parents and teachers alike. It’s about expression, ideas, and innovation -- exactly the same concepts that lie behind successful design, engineering, and manufacturing.

The US, like the UK, is looking to re-establish its historical and illustrious reputation in these areas and one sure way to do that is to develop and inspire children -- at the earliest opportunity and throughout their school lives -- with the basic principles to successfully learn how to design + make in 3D. Unfortunately though, for many children the design + make opportunities do not progress much beyond the crayon and glue stages in their early years because resources and equipment are quoted as being too costly for school budgets. But this barrier no longer exists; real, safe and good quality integrated 3D technologies are available at ultra low cost, in terms of purchase, maintenance and running of the equipment.

The barrier that is still getting in the way is the ‘perception’ that good quality equipment has to cost a fortune. It is worth stressing again -- it does not!

In these times of cut-backs and reduced budgets, it is not hard to understand the reticence towards investment. However, shrewd investments in educational facilities for the STEM subjects now will ultimately offer huge rewards for the design, engineering and manufacturing sectors in the longer term. Providing school children with the tools that allow them to facilitate their belief that they can design and make anything using 21st century technologies will create an environment that fosters true entrepreneurial spirit — something that encapsulates western culture.

Making 3D digital technologies accessible to children promotes a critical approach in this area -- it allows them to experiment for themselves, gaining real hands-on experience -- an approach that has proved much more successful than preaching and teaching from a book or a diagram. 

Talking of preaching, I am fully practicing exactly along the lines of what I preach when I write pieces like this. A1 Technologies is actively involved with educational programmes and events to demonstrate the very real capabilities of 3D digital technologies. This always involves working, interactive demonstrations of the technologies wherever possible.  Most recently the company took part in the Cambridge Science Festival as part of the Manufacturing Zone at the University’s Institute for Manufacturing. For any cynics among you that may question the results of these technologies in the hands of the very young, the following anecdote will hopefully quell the doubts.

Part of A1’s interactive demonstration at Cambridge was the distinctive Chameleon 3D design package, which proved a great success with visitors as they were able to experience the haptic nature of this tool and create their own virtual 3D models using the sense of touch. However, a particularly special moment for the A1 team came when a three-year old little girl -- using both of her hands to maneuver the mouse -- started designing in 3D, and showed that she was able to use the Chameleon to start her very own 3D design.

As far as I am concerned -- it is never too early to start encouraging, facilitating and allowing children to experiment with and understand 3D digital technologies. Such investment will see a pay-off exponentially greater in the medium to long term.

About Martin Stevens & A1 Technologies

Martin Stevens is the CEO of A1 Technologies, an advanced technology company, which he set up jointly with Trupti Patel in early 2009 to bring low cost 3D technologies to as broad a market as possible.  These cutting edge products are sold globally into education, industry and to individuals, with the dedicated remit of changing the way that people think about designing and making in 3D. Their products meet the needs of education, industry, creatives and hobbyists.

Outside 3D technologies, Martin’s expertise relates primarily to the SME sector, particularly in the fields of manufacturing and education, and his external activities are fully aligned with his professional role. Martin is the Chairman of Made in London, an organisation that supports the needs of the 20,000 manufacturers based in London. He is also currently a Board member of The Mayor’s London Skills and Employment Board and an Employer Champion for the UK Engineering Diploma