Project Details


This project aims to serve the national interest by improving additive manufacturing education. The global additive manufacturing market is expected to reach a value over $40 billion by the end of 2025. As a result, demand is increasing for additive manufacturing workforce development, and universities are developing new courses and programs to meet this demand. Unfortunately, hands-on laboratory experiences with additive manufacturing tools and technologies are not always easily available. For example, due to their cost and complexity of maintenance, high-end industrial machines are rarely found in a classroom setting. Virtual reality offers a potential engaging way to expose students effectively and at low cost to these industrial additive manufacturing machines. Focusing on three engineering design and manufacturing courses, this proposal will replace traditional computer-aided design activities with virtual reality-based educational approaches. The project team will conduct a research study to analyze how the virtual reality approaches affect students' ability to interpret intricate designs and complex additive manufacturing processes. It will also examine how the virtual reality approach affects students' ability to apply process-specific design considerations in different engineering contexts. It is expected that the virtual reality approaches will improve students' learning and better prepare them for success in the additive manufacturing workforce.

The objective of this research is to determine how an immersive virtual build environment affects a student's cognitive load when learning design- and process-centric additive manufacturing concepts. The intellectual deliverables will be (i) identification of learning differences when using virtual reality to understand different additive manufacturing process types (e.g., desktop material extrusion; industrial powder-bed fusion), (ii) quantitative evidence of the impact of virtual reality on student cognitive load during additive manufacturing design evaluation, and (iii) understanding the viability of integrating virtual reality into a student's engineering design process to support process-specific advanced manufacturing education. These deliverables will be produced through empirical studies conducted with more than 600 upper-level undergraduate engineering design and manufacturing students. To ensure robustness of the educational findings, formative and summative feedback will be provided throughout the project in partnership with the Pennsylvania State Leonhard Center for Enhancement of Engineering Education. The educational findings will be disseminated nationally through partnership with America Makes along with Penn State's 24 campuses located throughout the commonwealth. The NSF IUSE: EHR Program supports research and development projects to improve the effectiveness of STEM education for all students. Through the Engaged Student Learning track, the program supports the creation, exploration, and implementation of promising practices and tools.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date9/15/208/31/23


  • National Science Foundation: $300,000.00


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