Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, has been around for longer than you might have realized. As the name implies, the process creates an objects by adding material, one layer at a time, and it has been in commercial use since the 1980s.
According to Wohlers Report 2014, additive manufacturing first emerged as stereolithography, a process invented in 1983 and patented in 1984 by Charles Hull and 3D Systems, where a laser solidifies thin layers of liquid polymer sensitive to ultraviolet light. The SLA-1, the first commercial 3D printer, was in production by 1987.
Since then, the technology has grown to include materials beyond polymers and plastics, such as metals and ceramics, and even biological matter. While initially valued for its ability to quickly produce prototypes, additive manufacturing has expanded into the manufacturing process as print quality has increased and costs have declined.
This recent explosion in growth means there are plenty of opportunities for engineers and scientists with companies of all sizes and in a variety of fields: automotive, consumer goods, health care and construction, to name just a few. And, as truly interdisciplinary field, additive manufacturing welcomes a breadth of talent.
“Skills and knowledge in mechanical engineering, materials, computer science, etc., are all applicable,” said Craig Brice, professor of practice in mechanical engineering and director of the Advanced Manufacturing Program at Colorado School of Mines. “Fundamental skills that are helpful are computer-aided modeling and design, basic materials science, statistical methods and engineering economics.”
Clearly, additive manufacturing or 3D printing is far more than a hobby pursued in one’s spare time with home printers. While those with an engineering or computer programming background can do well, advanced education focused specifically on additive manufacturing will gain jobseekers an advantage.
Whether you pursue an advanced degree, gain personal hands-on experience or learn on the job, one thing’s for sure: prospects are bright for the additive manufacturing sector, with continued growth and hiring expected for the next decade.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of industrial engineers is projected to grow 10 percent from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average for all occupations. That’s 30,000 new jobs. “Many companies will be seeking to make use of new technologies to automate production processes in many different kinds of industries,” says the BLS. “Those with knowledge of manufacturing engineering may have the best prospects for employment.”
The 2021 Additive Manufacturing Salary Survey by Alexander Daniels Global, a recruitment firm specializing in the 3D printing and additive manufacturing industry, says the the field has operated at nearly 100% employment for the past six years. “The demand for talent has always outstripped the supply, with significant hiring challenges in critical areas like software, materials, and, to a lesser extent, sales, service and applications.”
Think a career in additive manufacturing might be right for you? Take a look at Colorado School of Mines’ advanced manufacturing programs, which include a graduate certificate that provides a strong foundation of knowledge and can be taken in person or completely online and a master’s that allows students to delve deeply into the field.