COIL is proud to support the Using Virtual Reality to Enhance Distance Education for Additive Manufacturing project through our Research Initiation Grant Program.
As additive manufacturing (AM, commonly known as 3D printing) increases in capability and industrial relevance, there is a growing demand for experienced AM practitioners to help maintain the United States’ competitiveness in design and manufacturing. However, large-scale AM systems are often prohibitively expensive and require significant operational infrastructure, which limits access to training. This study seeks to address this limitation by exploring the use of an immersive virtual reality (VR) environment to allow for long-distance, online learning of AM technologies. Specifically, we seek to identify significant differences in learning outcomes for i) students trained using a full-featured, interactive VR representation of an AM system versus students trained with a physical version of the same AM system and ii) students using VR for real-time observation of geographically distant AM systems versus students using VR for interaction with a computer-designed facsimile of an AM system. Knowledge gained from this project will provide educators with quantitative evidence to help guide “best practices” for teaching AM technology in distance education scenarios at scale.