Social impact of 3D printing

Activity for students aged 11 to 16 that takes about 20 minutes of class time


Type: Starter
Time: 20mins
Subjects: Design & Technology
Key words: 3D printing; medical science; debate; emerging technologies; Social impact; open source collaboration

3D printing is one of the newest emerging technologies. This technology allows people to easily develop prototypes of their designs and also to personally print 3D objects and machines. In this activity students brainstorm potential uses of 3D printing and debate potential advantages and disadvantages of this technology. This quick starter encourages students to think about the social impacts of emerging technologies.

Projector or interactive white board
Media Resources
Article on 3D printed gun and article on 3D printed hand



As a class watch the clip of 3D printing from this year’s CHRISTMAS LECTURES. (5mins)

Students work in small groups and have 2 minutes to brainstorm as many potential uses of 3D printing as possible - use a spider diagram template. Collate students’ ideas on the blackboard (5mins)

As a group brainstorm the negative or problematic aspect of 3D printing.  (5mins)

Students must decide if 3D printers should be freely available for the public to buy and use or if their sale and use should be restricted. (5mins)

Additional notes

Ideas for uses of 3D printing can either be collated by breaking them into groups and writing examples on the whiteboard or by simply tacking each group’s sheet to the whiteboard and picking out common themes or unusual or creative suggestions.

If the idea of a 3D printed gun has not already been mentioned by students introduce this idea and give an overview of the controversy associated with this idea (see attached news article).

This activity can be a verbal exercise or you can get students to write a short piece on their opinion about the benefits or hazards of 3D printing.
This conversation can be extended to include discussions about open-source approach to sharing information and designs.
Have articles on 3D printed gun and creation of prosthetic limbs get students to make bullet points on these articles. To give students inspiration of uses of 3D printing.

Get students to create video to campaign for their point of view.

Curriculum links

UK Design & Technology

  • Design
    1a use research and exploration, such as the study of different cultures, to identify and understand user needs
  • Evaluate
    3a analyse the work of past and present professionals and others to develop and broaden their understanding
    3b investigate new and emerging technologies
    3d understand developments in design and technology, its impact on individuals, society and the environment, and the responsibilities of designers, engineers and technologists

Supported by the Institution of Engineering & Technology

Watch the full lectures

View the full CHRISTMAS LECTURES, Sparks will fly: How to hack your home, along with behind the scenes footage and related content on the Ri Channel