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3D printing: Designing the world of tomorrow

Friday, March 23, 2018
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3D printing: Designing the world of tomorrow
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Several years ago, 3D printing technology made a big splash. Consumers were excited about the idea that they could create custom-made products in their own homes with the help of a small machine. 

3D printing has come a long way since then and is being used across a wide variety of industries: from medicine to car manufacturing and from architecture to engineering. It's now more sophisticated and has been adopted at major companies such as GE. The demand for professionals with 3D-printing skills has grown. In response, many universities have developed graduate programs centering around 3D printing and design.

Let's take a closer look at this fascinating field and what career and academic opportunities exist within it:

What is 3D printing?
3D printing is the process of creating a three-dimensional object layer by layer, 3D Hubs explained. The design follows a blueprint contained in a digital file and the item is built from the ground up. A range of different materials are used in 3D printing, including plastic, rubber and metal. This is different from the standard way of manufacturing products, which starts with whole raw materials and then shapes them piece by piece into a finished product. There are small-scale 3D printing machines that consumers can use in their own homes, while there are also larger, industrial-size machines that handle manufacturing for large companies. 

Personal 3D printing
3D printing has been made available to consumers through machines that can be used at home. 3D printers are also being heralded for their ability to empower small business owners to create the products and materials they need without having to resort to using a big manufacturer. For example, one 3D printer company, XYZprinting, recently announced that it will release three new products this year for small businesses, schools and consumers, Forbes reported, with the goal of providing "casual users and small business owners the tools and confidence to try their hand at this technology and incorporate it into their everyday lives."

printing3D printing is transforming manufacturing.

Additive manufacturing
"Additive manufacturing" is the term used to describe 3D printing on a large-scale, industrial level, according to the Technology Review. It is the process of manufacturing items thin layer by thin layer, instead of the typical casting-and-welding process used by industrial manufacturers. This approach saves costs while also enabling the manufacture of highly complex, intricate products. 

Many companies have embraced or are exploring 3D printing as a way to improve efficiencies. General Electric assembled its own 3D printing team to explore the technology and how it could produce jet engine parts. The venture was a success, turning into GE Additive, a business unit of the company that builds and sells 3D printers. The company also opened a 3D printing factory for jet engine parts in Alabama and paid more than $1 billion to purchase controlling stakes in two leading industrial 3D printer manufacturers. 

"The technology was incredible," said Mohammad Ehteshami, one of the initial 3D printing team members at GE who now oversees GE Additive. "In the design of jet engines, complexity used to be expensive. But additive allows you to get sophisticated and reduces costs at the same time. This is an engineer's dream. I never imagined that this would be possible."

Many startups have also embraced 3D printing, Inc. Magazine noted, including Desktop Metal, which manufactures consumer-facing 3D printers that offer increased efficiency and affordability, and SOLS, which makes 3D printed shoes. 

The current state of 3D printing 
The State of 3D Printing, 2017, a report from Sculpteo, sheds light on the current size and activity of the industry. The report found that 90 percent of companies using 3D printing think of the technology as a competitive advantage in their strategy, Forbes relayed. Budgets for 3D printing increased from $6,132 in 2016 to $9,504 in 2017. Other notable stats included that 55 percent of companies predict they will spend more on 3D printing in 2017, and 47 percent of companies have seen an increased return on investment on their 3D printing technologies in 2017 compared to 2016.

"There is high demand for 3D printing professionals."

The 3D printing industry as a whole is anticipated to be worth $32.8 billion by 2023 and demonstrate a compound annual growth rate of 25.8 percent, Business News Daily reported, citing data from a report by Markets and Markets.  

Demand for professionals 
As a result of the increased usability and adoption of 3D printing, there is a high demand for professionals with abilities and experience in this area. And with 3D printing being used in many industries and settings, including schools, hospitals, consumer products manufacturers, IT and aerospace, there are a wealth of career opportunities available. 

According to Business News Daily, some areas that will see job growth in the next few years include 3D designers, engineers and computer-aided design experts, also known as CAD modelers. There will also be job expansion in architecture and scientific modeling roles, research and development positions, aerospace, consultants and operations support positions, such as those in finance, sales and administration. 

Graduate opportunities 
In response to the growing application of 3D printing and its expanding career opportunities, many universities are introducing 3D printing and related graduate programs. These programs equip students with the skills, competencies and technical abilities necessary to apply their knowledge in professional settings or to conduct academic and scientific research that furthers innovation in the field. 

For example, Penn State University began offering master's degree programs in additive manufacturing and design last year. Through the program, students learn about the "analytical and practical skills required to digitally design, develop, analyze, numerically model, optimize, fabricate and inspect new components and subassemblies using additive-manufacturing technologies."

Northeastern University operates a Nanotechnology through Innovation in Materials Engineering - ANIMatE - initiative that combines nanomanufacturing and materials design science with 3D printing and mechatronics. 

The University of Maryland also offers graduate programs in additive manufacturing, with programs including courses such as Manufacturing with Polymers, Engineering Design Methods and Applied Machine Learning for Engineering and Design. 

This is just a sample of the growing number of graduate programs in 3D printing available to students. Many of these programs are also offered online, which provides advanced flexibility and convenience for students. 

Having a career in 3D printing 
If you're interested in having a career in this exciting field, focus on improving your skills with computer-aided design as well as your knowledge of the mechanical operation of 3D printers and their engineering and manufacturing applications. As IT-Ology noted, there are few professional certifications and accreditations currently available for those interested in 3D printing, and as such graduate programs are the best way to strengthen your skills and begin building your career in the field. 

Embrace the opportunity to cultivate a career in a new and quickly-changing field that is transforming science, business and manufacturing. Explore degree programs related to 3D printing today. 

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