Digital Fabrication in an education context is approaching a complex problem and creating a solution that can be digitally fabricated into a product using technology.
In education, digital fabrication involves the whole process: from identifying the problem, working through the whole design process to create a solution, and ultimately to the presentation of a digitally fabricated prototype that is, or forms, the solution. Therefore, digital fabrication is much more than just producing a product, it’s the whole creative design process, and digital fabrication is the means by which the student can solve the problem.
Thinking about digital fabrication in this way means that the benefits of digital fabrication are wide and varied. Using digital fabrication tools is obviously engaging, exciting and challenging for students. But the real benefits are in the whole process leading to the production – the critical thinking skills used, the teamwork or independence required, the focused self-directed learning employed to create not only a solution, but testing that solution to ensure it works.
So that when a student is met with failure at any point in the design process and fabrication of the prototype, they then have to be flexible and resilient enough to redirect their thinking, adapt their design and recreate a better solution. These are all skills that are best taught using a tangible, hands on product such as the machines used in digital fabrication.
In this context, project-based learning is an ideal learning tool to make the design process run smoothly.
From a practical point of view, depending on the types of products needing to be produced, there is a range of digital fabrication tools useful in education.
- Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines – There are many different types of CNC machines including; routers, lathes and mills. They can be used to create complex shapes that would be difficult or take a long time with a traditional tools.
- 3D Printing – quite popular in schools, where objects are made from building up layers of plastic or metal. This is an additive process and can be used to make very intricate and complex shapes.
- Laser Cutting – where a laser beam burns or melts materials such as metal, wood or acrylic. Laser cutters are actually a type of CNC, but unlike the router or mill they weren’t used much until Computer control was possible. They are an exceptionally fast and accurate means of cutting or engraving and are very popular for rapid prototyping.
See Project-Based Learning (PBL) for more information on applying the process of the design phase into your classroom.