While Southeast Whitfield High School is using its three new 3D printers to craft facial protection equipment for local healthcare workers during the new coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, demand for those will eventually decrease as the country escapes the grip of the virus, but the state-of-the-art printers will continue to benefit the school's students for years.
"I think we're the only high school in the Southeast with more than one of this type of printer," the Stratasys F170, said Ben Oliver, an instructor in Southeast’s drafting, design and engineering pathway who has spearheaded the face shield printing project. "This is the same type of printer Fortune 500 companies have, and, honestly, we have a leg up on most colleges, (so) the sky is the limit."
The printers were provided by an anonymous donor who learned about Southeast printing personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers and wanted to help.
"If they can dream it and draw it, they can build it" with these printers, Oliver said of the school's students. "We can print rubber, so we don't have to do just plastic; we can do flexible (materials)."
"The kids can put these skills into real life," he said. "I've gotten so many texts and emails from them, because they can't believe I get to play with them while they're stuck at home."
Students and staff had been engaged in distance learning since mid-March due to the pandemic and continued with that through the end of the school year on Friday.
When students are able to return to in-person learning, the new printers will "foster learning and provide students with opportunities for years to come," said Denise Pendley, the high school's principal. "Oliver’s engineering students will be able to print precise and accurate designs as well as printing on mixed media for multiple applications."
In addition to enhancing practical skills, such as creative coding, design and problem solving, 3D printing and modeling brings various educational concepts to life for students, according to "EdTech: Focus on K-12," a CDW publication that explores technology issues in education. 3D printing also supports "inclusion efforts for students of various learning styles and improves collaboration and speaking skills."
The printers "are a huge blessing," Oliver said. "The donor was unbelievably generous."