Assessing the Use of Virtual Reality to Support Additive Manufacturing Education

Nicholas Meisel
Assistant Professor
Penn State

Need: 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.Guiding Question: 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. Virtual reality offers a potential engaging way to expose students effectively and at low cost to these industrial additive manufacturing machines. Specifically, the work seeks to identify (1) learning differences when using virtual reality to understand different additive manufacturing process types (e.g., desktop material extrusion; industrial powder-bed fusion) and (2) the impact of virtual reality on student cognitive load during additive manufacturing design evaluation.Outcomes: The results indicate that immersion and presence do not have a significant impact when learning about easily accessible and functionally less complex AM processes like material extrusion but does have a significant impact when learning about less accessible and functionally more complex AM processes like powder-bed fusion. Our findings on knowledge gain show that virtual reality education can yield equivalent knowledge gains to computer-aided instruction and live system demonstration, but also that both immersive mediums can potentially yield a higher knowledge throughput than computer-aided instruction for functionally complex processes like powder-bed fusion.Broader Impacts: Many advanced manufacturing processes have a daunting learning curve. As such, novel approaches must be identified to reduce the time required to on-board students in AM education. By using VR to reduce the cognitive load during on-boarding, the nascent AM workforce can be supported, and industrial use of AM can increase after students graduate. Alongside this larger industrial impact, this research will directly impact an estimated 670 undergraduate engineering students, from engineering design and manufacturing courses offered at both the introductory and advanced levels. The educational findings will be disseminated nationally through partnership with America Makes along with Penn State’s 24 campuses located throughout the commonwealth.


Nick Meisel, Penn State, University Park, PA; Scarlett Miller, Penn State, University Park, PA; Tim Simpson, Penn State, University Park, PA; Jayant Mathur, Penn State, University Park, PA