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What’s the outlook for additive manufacturing engineers and the field as a whole?

Bullseye 3D printerAccording 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.”

According to the survey, employees on the software side of the industry in North America earn an average of $65,000 entry-level jobs to $151,000 as senior managers with 10 to 15 years of experience. In research and development and engineering, junior employees earn around $75,000 per year while senior managers make an average of $142,000.

R&D positions are the most in-demand, according to the survey, with 58% of additive manufacturing employers likely to hire for those positions in the next 12 months. Sales was second at 53%, followed by operation & finance and service positions, both at 42%. Software positions were at 26%.

Plastics Technology magazine, in an article from December 2019, pointed out five additive manufacturing trends to watch in 2020. They predicted greater industrial-scale adoption of additive manufacturing, increased automation, closer collaborations, an emphasis on sustainability and expansion of end markets, particularly in biomedical, consumer goods, automotive, aerospace and electronics.

While the manufacturing industry is at continued risk for disruption due to tariffs, a tight labor market and the COVID-19 pandemic, the uncertainties also offer plenty of opportunities.

“Additive manufacturing has gained plenty of ‘street cred’ through COVID-19 as small and large manufacturers, many that were quietly making unique products that could, of course, be made only through additive manufacturing,” according to SME, an association of professionals, educators and students in the manufacturing industry, which hosts the RAPID + TCT showcase of 3D technology companies. “The big 3D printer manufacturers themselves were also at the top of the news hour on a daily and weekly basis — from HP to Stratasys to 3D Systems and up and coming startups such as Carbon, Desktop Metal, MatterHackers, and even some smaller, lesser-known, but equally strong startup players that may not have been on your radar.”

“Many companies have shifted their efforts toward digital projects that build agility and scalability to help them to manage risk,” according to Deloitte’s 2020 manufacturing industry outlook. “Applying artificial intelligence, cloud computing, advanced analytics, robotics, and additive manufacturing to the value chain can increase visibility and transparency, allowing manufacturers to make faster changes to operations to respond to market-based threats or opportunities.”

In November 2020, 3D printing solutions company Essentium announced the results of its third annual study, which revealed that the use of large-scale additive manufacturing has more than doubled in the past year for 70 percent of manufacturing companies. The company also found that the number of companies that have shifted to using AM for full-scale production runs of hundreds of thousands of parts has doubled from 7 percent in 2019 to 14 percent in 2020.

“During the Covid-19 pandemic, AM proved it can step in to make quantities of supplies at scale, or at least the mold to make the product, to keep the assembly lines moving. The survey found 57 percent of manufacturers increased 3D printing for production parts to keep their supply chains flowing during the crisis. 3D printing investment plans have also changed at many companies: 24 percent of respondents have gone all-in; 25 percent of manufacturers are ramping up to meet supply chain needs; and 30 percent of respondents are evaluating industrial-scale 3D printing to fill supply chain gaps.”

According to the World Economic Forum, the manufacturing and production industries can drive the global economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic by capitalizing on “Fourth Industrial Revolution” technologies including additive manufacturing, the internet of things and cloud-based analytics.

In a 2017 report, McKinsey projected the overall economic impact of additive manufacturing to reach $100 billion to $250 billion by 2025, with most of that potential coming from the aerospace, defense, automotive, medical and consumer goods industries.

“3D printing could bring millions of manufacturing jobs to US shores and set off a fresh wave of economic growth across several industrial sectors,” according to a 2017 research report from consulting firm AT Kearney. Their analysis concluded additive manufacturing could realistically bring three to five million skilled jobs back to the country and yield up to $900 billion in economic value within a decade.

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