They understood the principles but could not build a working prototype themselves. It was in the 1960s that Thomas Maiman made the first synthetic ruby laser, producing a straight red laser beam.
Decades later, schools have added this technology to their toolkits, manufacturing unique designs with wood, MDF, acrylic, cardboard, and even leather materials. Computer-controlled, commercial laser cutters use high-powered infrared lasers to burn, melt, or vaporise material and activate assisting gas to clear away burned matter, resulting in cuts as small a diameter as 0.1mm or even smaller with ultra-specialist equipment.
Another popular option for schools is the ‘computer numerical control’, otherwise known as the CNC router.
A machine that cuts hard materials like wood, stone, and metal, as well as softer materials such as various plastics and foam, CNC routers cut directly into the material as opposed to the impact being laser driven. Device software is programmed by the user, transmitting instructions to the router to carry out the task.
With these technologies, students convert product ideas into prototypes, construct scale models of buildings, vehicles, and project dioramas, create or engrave jewellery, awards, and other accessories.
Schools can also use them to make promotional materials, display stands, and other useful items.
Of course, schools should understand the laser safety classification and the safety protocols of their new machines, implementing well-documented operating procedures.
Don’t forget to utilise available training sessions provided by your chosen laser supplier and continually upskill your operators to meet safety requirements.
Industry Insights on Machine Use in Schools
School News sought advice from experienced suppliers about what should be key considerations for schools that are choosing equipment to purchase for student-use.
Interestingly, Trotec Laser representative Reece Moore has noticed a shift in how schools now integrate these technologies:
Until recently, laser technology was predominantly used in secondary schools, but we are experiencing increased integration between primary, early learning, and senior schools.
“From the school’s perspective, open plan and multi-use spaces enhance collaborative learning, encourage accountability, and maximise the potential for integrating the laser across many areas of the curriculum. Some schools develop collaborative projects between early learning and senior school programs.
“A popular idea is to integrate the laser into a ‘greater good’ program, which can be as simple as creating a laser group within the school to bring about positive interactions with the wider community. For example, laser cutting COVID masks for nursing homes; working with the local community shed; and supporting charitable initiatives or outreach programmes.
“School-made products we have seen include earrings and other personalised gifts, to raise money for consumables at recess and lunch time; flat pack easter bunnies, where students learned to temper chocolate and laser cut; furniture construction with complex joining mechanisms and inlays; marshmallows and engraved staff gifts; fabricated plastic components for the Subs in Schools programme; and schools have also been processing recycled plastics to reduce landfill.”
On how teachers might integrate the machines into the curriculum: Schools are increasingly thinking outside the box and no longer teaching students to use a laser just to make a keychain. Instead, thinking about processing different levels of material, testing, and reporting. For example, students can collaborate with mathematics for instruction in creating geometric shapes using Bezier curves.
“Alongside the traditional design and technology curriculum, consider opportunities to integrate the laser into studies related to enterprise and business innovation.
“After all, it is not uncommon for school leavers to start their own laser businesses after graduation by utilising skills they learned in the classroom.”