The 51st annual SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference, held in Louisville, Kentucky, added a new and exciting competition to its lineup this year. Fourteen teams representing various states across the U.S. joined Stratasys and SME for the first annual Additive Manufacturing Competition. The contest was designed to provide students with insights into additive manufacturing through hands-on experience using today’s latest 3D printing technology and software.
This year’s contestants tested on their overall understanding of additive manufacturing and their ability to use critical thinking skills to develop unique concept designs. Students were required to use 3D CAD software to design a car model, all while adhering to contest specifications including 3D print time, size, and material usage. Stratasys printed the car models in ABS material on the Stratasys uPrint SE Plus 3D Printer.
Once on-site at the competition, students were asked to redesign a component of their model to improve the design, functionality and/or appearance. Contestants were tested on their knowledge of 3D printing with a written exam and participated in a 1-hour Quick Challenge: design an iPhone case for a celebrity client. The competition concluded with formal presentations to the panel of judges including Hadi Miyanaji of the University of Louisville, Mark Toda of PennTAP, Deni Albrecht of Kenco, and Charles Evans of Stratasys.
Additive manufacturing has become a critical component for STEM-related programs and curricula in the education system. According to Pam Hurt, Industry Manager and Workforce Development at SME, educators can use 3D printing as a tool to help students visualize their ideas. “It gives the student the ability to design a part immediately, see the impact of that part, and if they aren’t happy with their design, they can change it immediately,” she said.
In addition to educational tools, educators should consider integrating 3D printing into their curricula to train and prepare students for the evolving workforce. The demand for additive manufacturing engineers and technicians has increased well beyond the supply of qualified entry-level applicants. “SME is working with end-users, educators, and companies such as Stratasys to make sure we’re all working towards the same end-goal: an educated and trained student,” said Hurt.
Students like Allison Vandenberg, a first year SkillsUSA participant and student at Little Chute Career Pathways Academy in Wisconsin, had already acquired some basic skills in CAD software, but this was her first introduction to a hands-on 3D printing project.
“If I can make a little toy car and an iPhone case, I can do just about anything with this technology and that’s really cool,” explained Vandenberg.
Other contestants had some familiarity with the technology through school projects or other 3D printing challenges. Joshua Fuller, a second-time SkillsUSA national qualifier and student at Tri County Regional Vocational Technical High School adds, “I learned so much this year. From the test we took, to the presentations we listened to, it was a great experience to realize I want to learn more about this field.”