3D Printed Math Art designs by George Hart (left) and Kyle Gifford (right). Source: WhiteClouds
3D Printed Math Art designs by George Hart (left) and Kyle Gifford (right). Source: WhiteClouds

3D modeling has been traditionally complex with a steep learning curve involving geometry, scaling, and other mathematics and engineering concepts. Now that 3D printing is becoming more mainstream, 3D modeling software for non-designers is also taking off. 3D Systems has created a new 3D modeling program called Cubify Sculpt, which allows users to push and pull shapes such as a box, sphere, or cylinder of virtual clay. Users can also import designs to create more complex 3D parts. Other programs, such as Trimble SketchUp and Pirate 3D’s Smart Objects app, are also designed for consumers who are interested in design, but do not have engineering experience. Several of the programs, such as Trimble SketchUp are available for free, thus reducing another barrier to creation.

These tools are a great way for beginners to get involved in the process of 3D modeling and 3D printing without spending countless hours trying to learn complex CAD programs. The creation of these programs show a democratization of making and design. This will open up innovation from several sources, including people who have thought they could never learn the complexities of 3D design. Along with allowing our creative forces to flow, we can also work on solutions to common problems. 3D printing allows the creation of 3D designs that are not possible to make any other way. Injection molding has its limitations as far as creating parts with cavities and 3D printing solves this problem. Since 3D parts are printed layer by layer rather than using molds or subtractive methods, parts with complex designs and cavities are possible to print.

By becoming designers, we can all engage with our world in new and exciting ways. Becoming tinkerers may become a reality for each of us, and if we teach our students to tinker, it will open up the doors of innovation and engage learners in an active environment to solve problems. Rather than being the tool of the few, 3D modeling can become a tool for everyone to use.