Having an up-to-date knowledge about available tools for product conception and design is of utmost importance for designers’ comprehensive professional preparation.

The School of Design of Politecnico di Milano currently provides classes focused on manufacturing technologies and their applications. However, an in-depth teaching about 21st Century manufacturing technologies is still missing, and issues such as hardware and software programming, digital fabrication processing and additive manufacturing through 3D printing are not yet fully included in the curriculum. Although until a few years ago 3D printers were expensive tools configured only for experts, nowadays additive manufacturing technologies have been integrated into the spaces of the Design School also for educational purposes. In this context, “Polifactory” fablab and maker space of Politecnico di Milano organised a series of theoretical and practical crash courses such as the “Design, digital fabrication and 3D printing” one, in order to overcome design students’ weaknesses providing them with a basic related knowledge.

The work presented here shows methods and final outcomes of the above mentioned crash course. The educational experience was attended by 40 selected design students coming from different academic levels and design paths. Participants had the opportunity to approach digital fabrication technologies’ potential and limits, deepening their knowledge of Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) 3D printing method. The course had a total duration of 16 hours and lasted two days. Theoretical lectures concerning open and distributed manufacturing issues and subtractive and additive manufacturing main technologies were held in the first day. Particular attention was devoted to the FDM process explanation, aiming to highlight 3D modelling and printing rules and guidelines in order to make students aware of correct printing procedures. Besides technical contents, theoretical lectures insisted on the contextualization of the design contribution when additive manufacturing is concerned. In this regard, the second day was devoted to the translation of theoretical rules into practice: students were divided into 10 groups and were asked to develop a 3D model that would both enhance peculiarities and exploit features conventionally considered as causes of low quality when printing through FDM technology. Functional as well as aesthetical results were expected. The crash course ended with the purpose to print the resulting 3D models at a later stage due to limits on time, in order to verify if FDM rules and guidelines had been applied in a functional manner for the exercise good outcome. However, each group prepared a presentation for results sharing and commenting. Most of the groups succeeded in the task, showing products with specific peculiarities.

The teaching methodology of learning by translating borderline features into practice when materials and technologies are applied has long been considered as an effective teaching practice within the academic context, and confirmed its effectiveness in this case as well. Moreover, students’ general satisfaction was high and they found the crash course useful and inherent to their profession. For these reasons, crash course contents further implementations are foreseen, in order to provide design students with more in-depth knowledge about design issues for digital fabrication and 3D printing as well as technical skills.