"I would consider a career in 3D printing if I was a youngster leaving school just now", says Avril Stringer (an oldie) from 3D Print Works.
Anyone entering this exciting world now is likely to be "in demand" for many years as the industry grows, expands and changes. What opportunities are available and what skills or qualifications do you need? 3D Printing is new and changing. When I say new, it has actually been around since the mid-80's but the last 10 years has seen rapid growth and development. The industry is in a similar position now to where personal computers were in the late 1970's or early 80's. At that time, there was a shortage of skilled IT staff and anyone starting their career in computing had a well-paid job for life.
A degree in Mechanical Engineering is one way to learn Computer Aided Design (CAD), all about materials, how the world effects structures (you do not want your bridge to fall down!) and the practicalities of 3D printing. Your career in 3D printing could take many forms and you are likely to work up to a well-paid and senior position within a few years. You could work for a company which provides 3D printing, teach in a school or further education, or be employed by a company specialising in Research & Development. The world is your oyster. Here at 3D Print Works, we have employed several students who were studying Mechanical Engineering. One was Alex, who was able to access our printers for his final year project. He made a 3D printed prosthetic hand.
Research & Development (R&D)
If you like finding new ways to do things and are happy to fail, learn and try again, perhaps R&D is for you. 3D companies are pushing the boundaries to find new ways of doing things, new materials and new processes. Traditional companies are looking to 3D printing to develop their products and systems. Here are just some of these opportunities:
3D printers are being used to create medicine, body parts and scientific modelling. If you have a scientific background, you could find a career by pioneering these techniques and helping to save and improve lives.
Linked to science, 3D companies are continually developing new materials to print with. Here at 3D Print Works, we have an R&D capability and we develop materials with other organisations. We are working on a super-tough PLA and a conductive PLA. We may shortly be involved in a recycling project (Ssshhhh! Can't say too much just now.)
New products come out on the market every day and they all start with being designed followed by a prototype. 3D printing is great for prototyping as it has relatively low cost compared to traditional methods which usually require expensive tooling. This low cost makes it efficient to try out different versions during the design process. More and more engineering and product development companies will have their own in-house 3D printers for this very reason.
Pushing the Boundaries
Do you want to get involved in a project like this - https://singularityhub.com/2021/02/26/the-worlds-first-3d-printed-school-will-be-built-in-madagascar - 3D printing houses. Or making a 3D car? We are a long way from turning all your dreams into reality, but we must start somewhere and perhaps your career in 3D printing can take that route.
Computer Aided Design (CAD)
Anything that needs to be 3D printed starts with a digitised version of the object. One way to do this is by drawing it in a CAD package. At 3D Print Works, we copy objects that customers want to have 3D printed (for example, if something is broken and a replacement is unavailable). We also do the CAD work from detailed drawings. As the industry grows, the demand for CAD specialists will grow. If you like engineering drawings, you might like to make it your job.
Design & Art
3D printing opens doors to new ways of making objects - complicated structures that cannot be made by traditional methods are sometimes possible with 3D printing. 3D printing can be used in products, art, architecture. If your primary subject area is one of these, you could specialise in 3D printing. Art is particularly interesting - packages similar to CAD exist for 3D for artists. People want to bring their 2D designs to life - characters, props, logos to name a few. Jewellery design is another area of specialism. Many film and theatre props and costumes are made using 3D printing. Being able to paint your creations brings more life to them and makes them look more realistic.
Many secondary schools now have 3D printers and they are set to change the way children learn to design - for the first time they can make their creations and learn what worked well or not! They can easily tweak their designs and start again. If you want to teach children design skills, this is the opportunity for you! Help them to set up their own 3D printing club and encourage 3D printing throughout the school. One school I came across had their students design and make a special handle for spoons to be used in the cooking department by special needs children. 3D models and props make great teaching aids for many subjects.
Business and Entrepreneurs
This vastly growing business makes for new business opportunities. There are myriad business ideas that we have at 3D Print Works - but we can't do them all so we just stick to making filament and offer a 3D printing service. All of the activity described in this post could be a new business opportunity. The majority of businesses within the 3D printing industry now were started in the last 10 years. If you have an entrepreneurial spirit, you do not have to look far to find a start-up idea.
With all these 3D printers in use, they are bound to break! We have found that the most likely cause is user ineptitude (often me!). Parts need to be replaced and jams need to be freed, so if you are a helpful, technically minded person, this may be for you!
Marketing, Operations, Administration
Where there are things being made or designed, there is likely to be a whole back-end operation to support this activity. Marketing and sales to sell such products, operational teams to ensure smooth manufacture and office systems to support ordering, despatching and accounting. Being specialised in 3D Printing means you will understand the processes and specific concerns of 3D printing.
Kick start your career in 3D printing
These are just a few ideas. You can start your career in 3D printing by taking the relevant subjects to whichever area you are interested in. If you are studying in further education, try to get work experience in a company that is involved in 3D printing. This might mean the arduous task of researching to find such businesses in your area. If you are looking for a hands-on career, consider learning a CAD package (some are free) and buying or making your own 3D printer. Then find projects to practice on! Being proficient when you enter the jobs market will make you more employable.
Whatever you decide to do, you are sure to have a wonderful career with many interesting and exciting opportunities. Good Luck!