PHo To cour TeSy oF FloriS van Breugel
Just as the democratization of information through personal computers was a key advance of the 20th century, the democratization of production through improvements in
fabrication technologies will be a pivotal development in the 21st century.
Digital fabrication is the process of translating a digital design into a physical object. At
one time, digital fabrication required expensive
manufacturing plants for computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing
(CAM). But today, personal fabrication systems
are beginning to allow individuals access to these
Young students have not typically had the opportunity to see their ideas make the trip from
concept to physical form. The advent of personal
fabrication gives students this opportunity for
the first time.
The Society of Manufacturing Engineering
concludes that personal fabrication will offer
“revolutionary changes for both manufacturers
and the everyday consumer, forever changing
the way we view manufacturing.” The society
includes personal fabrication in a short list of innovations that could change engineering, noting
that U.S. President Barack Obama has identified
this kind of innovation as the key to prosperity.
In Outliers: The Story of Success, author Malcolm Gladwell concludes that early access and
opportunities to practice are the keys to success
in any field involving complex tasks. He notes,
for example, that Bill Gates had extensive access
to a state-of-the art computer lab in his school in
CONNECTED CL ASSROOM
◀ The Fab@Home fabber employs a relatively new form
of manufacturing that builds 3D objects by carefully
depositing materials drop by drop, layer by layer.
◀ The design for this gear system is
one of many available in the Shapeways
database ( www.shapeways.com).
an era when these capabilities were not widely
To excel in the field of digital fabrication,
students will need early access to personal fabrication tools and opportunities to practice. As
fabrication tools become increasingly accessible,
students will be able to learn about engineering
design and experience the thrill of seeing their
ideas realized in physical form.
Computer-Controlled Die Cutting
The inexpensive computer-controlled die-cutting systems that are now emerging can be
used to create a variety of shapes and objects
from card stock and vinyl. These systems are
essentially computer-controlled, electronic
scissors. Most schools already have mechanical die-cutting systems, but these machines
can only use premade metal dies.
A computer-controlled die-cutting system,
such as the CraftRobo, can transform a digital design on the screen into a physical shape.
This can expand a learner’s ability to construct
two- and three-dimensional objects in ways that
surpass ordinary office or classroom tools. For
example, it can consistently cut in clean, straight
lines and transform a variety of media, such as
Computer-controlled systems can create perforated lines that students can bend and fold
into three-dimensional shapes. They are about
the size of an inkjet printer and are affordable
at as little as $300. (See Connected Classroom,
L&L, May 2009.)
36 Learning & Leading with Technology | November 2009