Education and nTop in 2020: Bring it to Your Classroom

While education has been mostly virtual this year, our nTopEd community has continued to grow. We quickly learned how to adapt and flourish in this new normal. Check out below how some schools are implementing nTop Platform into their coursework and how you can bring it into your classroom.

Lizabeth Arum
November 17, 2020

A little over a year ago,  nTopology created nTopEd, an education community providing academic users from educational institutions access to nTop Platform as well as relevant and necessary resources and skills needed to use the software in coursework and research. From the very beginning, nTopEd members leveraged the power of nTop Platform. They led the way by developing and sharing their work, knowledge, experience, and best practices.

Spring 2020

By early 2020 nTopEd was in full swing. nTop 2.0 was released and the user base was growing daily. But then COVID-19 happened, and we all went home and tried to figure out how to work remotely.  

The spring semester of 2020 was unlike anything any of us had previously experienced. Nevertheless, throughout the spring of 2020 nTopology remained committed to our education community. We continued to distribute licenses to educators and students and established a way for a faculty member to obtain and manage licenses for any number of students. We even started to show up in Zoom classes to provide virtual training. In fact, online education made it far easier for us to connect with students and educators. We could teach from wherever we were to wherever they were regardless of distance or time zone! 

One of our Application Engineers, Evan Pilz, teaching a class via Zoom

Spring into Fall 2020

We all made it through the spring semester. And, as we adjusted, we started sleeping through the night, stopped incessantly checking the news, finished binge-watching Tiger King, and started to think clearly again. With a bit of pandemic experience, everyone now had more time and know-how to prepare for the fall semester. Whether the teaching and learning would be 100% online or some hybrid form, it would surely become a better education experience than what it had been just months earlier. 

Virtual opportunities created

Most of you will agree with me that we can’t wait to get back to in-person learning, but there have been some undeniable benefits, some of which may change the future of teaching. Out of necessity, students have become more self-reliant, organized, and accountable for their own learning outcomes. If only their high school teachers could just see them now! 

Here at nTop, while we do miss traveling, attending conferences, and meeting our users in their own environments, the time we’ve saved not waiting for trains, planes, or even subways, has provided us with an opportunity to develop more resources and meet virtually with far more students and educators than we possibly could have prior to the pandemic.  

Just this semester, we have scheduled education sessions with Boston University, Cal Poly, Drexel University, Guelph University, Marquette University, MIT, Penn State University, Pratt, Virginia Tech, Trinity College Dublin, University of British Columbia, University of Technology Sydney, and Wentworth Institute of Technology! 

Touch Hand Socket from the Advanced Engineering Design Group at Nelson Mandela University


As nTopology’s Education Partner Manager, I’ve seen a wealth of resources come out of nTopology since March, but I’ve also seen greater integration with our software in mechanical engineering and design courses. For example, MIT’s “Design for 3D Printing” (15.S20) is providing an extensive overview of Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software in additive manufacturing via 3D printing, which includes a unit working with nTopology. 

Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech’s “Additive Manufacturing” fall 2020 course features a group of 40 senior-level undergraduate and graduate students from the VT College of Engineering. The class content has two primary foci: (i) AM technologies, process physics, and materials, and (ii) design for AM methodologies. The second half of the class features a term project where students apply their knowledge to design a product that is to be manufactured via AM.

Due to COVID-19, the class moved to a 100% online/virtual experience in fall 2020. To make the most of the unique situation, Dr. Chris Williams adjusted the syllabus to feature additional virtual visits from the AM industry. This included OEMs (e.g., ExOne, MELD, and SLM), AM service providers (e.g., Big Metal Additive), and end-users (e.g., Boeing). The online nature of the class provided a unique opportunity to provide students more hands-on time with DfAM software and associated training – something that had been missing from prior course offerings. This year, students are learning how to use the latticing features of nTop Platform, and plan to implement nTop’s powerful capabilities in their semester design projects, including designing a custom-fitting bicycle helmet, an advanced CPU heat exchanger, and customized car wheels.

Boston University

In Anna Thornton’s Boston University Additive Manufacturing class (ME557)  students use nTop Platform to lightweight or aesthetically modify a design, have the option to use the software for a number of other projects, and some are using it for the topology optimization assignment.

Shane Xu and Jonathan Harger’s Topological Optimization with nTop from Boston University’s course ME557

Peter Schwartz and Jamie Brecher from Boston University’s ME557

Penn State University

Professor Guha Manogharan’s Penn State University Metal AM Lab (ME566) has provided in-depth and hands-on laboratory experience in additive manufacturing with a focus on metallic-based components.  Laboratory activities have included part design and analysis, process simulation and modeling, build preparation and machine set up, part fabrication and post-processing, and non-destructive inspection and measurement. Through the laboratory activities, students have been exposed to all aspects of the additive manufacturing workflow and have learned how metal-based additive manufacturing differs from polymer-based 3D printing. This week-long, intensive course has been offered three times over the fall semester and nTopology has shown up online each time to demonstrate the capabilities and help each cohort learn how to use the software.

In two other PSU classes, Professor Nicholas Meisel is using nTop for: (1) a senior-level course called EDSGN 462: Introduction to Design for Additive Manufacturing and (2) a graduate-level course called EDSGN 562: Design for Additive Manufacturing. For the 462 course, students focus on the application of design principles (i.e., how do we design awesome things using design for AM principles), while in the 562 course, focuses on advancing design for AM research (i.e., how do we expand our design for AM understanding and capabilities). For both courses, students get a demonstration of nTop during the module on what Meisel calls “opportunistic DfAM,” which essentially boils down to the sorts of impossible design things that we couldn’t realize without AM (mass customization, topology optimization, lattice structures). After the demo, students are assigned a design challenge where they have to redesign a simple household object to (1) consolidate the part count down to 1 and (2) reduce build material and build time as much as possible. This semester, Meisel is having his students redesign a cell-phone holder that’s meant to attach to an electrical outlet.  

University of North Texas

I’ve seen even more plans to use nTopology in classes in 2021. University of North Texas’s Digital Manufacturing (MEET 3750) for undergraduate students in their Mechanical Engineering programs is an advanced course with the intention of applying the fundamental and technological knowledge of Digitalization and Additive Manufacturing. As a learning outcome, students will develop the ability to design, configure, and implement processes of Additive Manufacturing and 3D scanning, and they’ll be using nTop to do it.

Colorado School of Mines

At Colorado School of Mines, Anthony Petrella will be teaching FEA Professional (mines.edu/feapro), a new, fully online, Graduate Certificate (4 courses) designed for working professionals. The centerpiece of the new program is the online course, Design for Additive Manufacturing (DfAM) which will cover topology optimization, part consolidation, mesoscale lattice design for structural and heat transfer applications, and AM process simulation to predict residual strain/stress and distortion. The course leverages industry-leading software tools and foremost among these is nTop Platform. As Petrella says, “The lattice design features in nTop Platform just cannot be matched by any other tools on the market, and the ability to exploit scripting and automation with nTopCL allows us to explore multiple designs in an efficient workflow… this is how professionals will do DAM on the job and these are the skills I want my students to walk away with.”

Bring nTop to Your Class

If you are a teacher or student and would like to introduce others in the classroom to nTop Platform reach out to me! I can get your classroom set up with an application engineer to provide a virtual training session during one of your regularly scheduled class times (or any time of your choosing). I can be reached at lizarum@ntopology.com

Don’t have access to a 3D printer? We know many students are working from home. That’s why we’re offering to help those in the continental United States with prototyping. Want to see if your design works the way you intended? We can print your file in PLA and send your model to you. Just fill out this form.

nTopology is committed to the education community. If you’re a current student who wants to learn or use nTop on your own or for a class, or if you’re someone who is teaching a class and wants to distribute licenses to students, apply for free EDU licenses. We’ll set you up with the software, invite you to the Slack nTopEd workspace, and provide you with the resources necessary to get you up and running. 

So how are you using nTop? If you’re an EDU user and would like to share your nTop files with nTopology and see them used on the website or in promotional materials, we’re collecting them here.

Do you have other ideas about how we can help students and educators with nTop Platform? Send me an email with your ideas (lizarum@ntopology.com).

Written by
Artist, tinkerer, and educator, Liz is the Education Partner Manager for nTopology. She brings eight years of experience introducing and integrating desktop 3D printing into education, working at Makerbot Industries, Tinkerine, and Ultimaker. Passionate about connecting people and ideas and creating communities, like the Ultimaker Pioneer Program, she is a co-founder of Construct3D, a vendor-agnostic national 3D printing and digital fabrication conference and expo focused on academic use, best practices, and professional development opportunities for faculty, staff, and students from informal, K-12, and higher education contexts. Liz is a graduate of the Cooper Union and NYU’s ITP.