6 Essential Skills for Additive Manufacturing
In recent years, there has been a tremendous interest and growth in advanced manufacturing processes such as additive manufacturing (AM). This form of manufacturing — more commonly known as 3D printing — is the process of making solid objects from a digital file by laying down successive layers of material. AM has been steadily growing since its inception in the 1980s. Each year, there is a wave of new machines and materials introduced into the burgeoning and rapidly changing AM marketplace, which is estimated to reach $21 billion globally by the end of this decade.
As with many disruptive technologies, the sector growth has happened much more quickly than the pace of learning for the workforce. There are many reasons for this lag, but one major culprit is a skills gap — AM is so different from traditional manufacturing that many workers simply don't have the right skills, or can't be trained fast enough to upskill into these new roles.
To better address the unique skills that AM requires, you must first understand that it is not any single technology, but a whole integrated set of manufacturing technologies and processes. Therefore, a highly trained AM workforce will be need to be skilled in the following multidisciplinary methods.
Understanding material properties and proper handling of material and operating equipment safely are fundamental skills for anyone working in AM. A comprehensive knowledge base that encompasses the safe operation and maintenance of your 3D printers, as well as downstream machines, is necessary.
Materials management, including any environmental waste disposal, is an often-overlooked aspect of AM production. This knowledge is especially necessary for the metal additive space, which has additional safety and environmental considerations, including specific training for:
Personal protective equipment (PPE)
Proper waste management procedures
6. Critical thinking and soft skills
Finally, while there is always a focus on hands-on technical skills, the overall level of critical thinking and problem-solving skills involved in the entire manufacturing process should not be overlooked. Likewise, the value of interpersonal skills such as communication, collaboration, and leadership abilities are equally important factors for your AM workforce of today and tomorrow. Your workers are the best advocates for AM, but they need to be able to articulate its value to senior management to encourage its broader use and adoption in creative ways.
AM is poised to have a dramatic impact on manufacturing, but it is still in a relatively early stage and has yet to reach its full potential or complete industrial adoption. One significant hurdle AM faces is a qualified workforce to run it all, which is why this level of expertise is in high demand.
Whether you're an AM professional seeking advanced opportunities, or a business leader seeking new talent to help you take advantage of the technical advancements AM offers, you need to cultivate these skills for your workforce of the future.
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- 1. Deloitte University Press. Vazquez, Passaretti and Valenzuela. “3D opportunity for the talent gap." Deloitte Insights. 2016. https://www2.deloitte.com/insights/us/en/focus/3d-opportunity/3d-printing-talent-gap-workforce-development.html
- 2. Ibid.