3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is an exponentially growing field.
Utilised by various industries from aerospace to medicine, additive manufacturing encompasses multiple disciplines including design, engineering, materials science and chemistry, as well as manufacturing and production.
It’s understandable that many people wish to enter the world of 3D printing professionally, either as a starting occupation or as part of a career change. Many others also find the process fascinating, and would like to engage with additive manufacturing as a pastime.
Unlike attending medical school to become a doctor or taking a local evening class to develop pottery skills, there seem to be minimal clear entry points to pursuing additive manufacturing, either professionally or as a hobby. Very few know the specifics of additive manufacturing, such as its origins, or how to enter its exciting world.
The History of 3D Printing
The concept of 3D printing emerged in the 1950s when physicist and engineer David H. Dulebohn and his team developed a method called “stereolithography,” which used light to harden polymers layer-by-layer.
In 1984, Charles W. Hull, an American engineer, introduced the world to stereolithography apparatus (SLA), a groundbreaking additive manufacturing technology.
Four years later, inventor Scott Crump developed Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) technology. FDM involves excreting thermoplastic material through a nozzle, in a more accessible and affordable method of printing.
In the 1990s, additive manufacturing was predominantly used for prototyping in the aerospace and automotive industries. The expiration of key patents in the early 2000s led to the growth of consumer additive manufacturing, introducing desktop 3D printers, making the technology accessible to hobbyists and small businesses for the first time.
The 2010s saw significant advancements in 3D printing technology, including improved materials, faster printing speeds, and greater accuracy. Additive manufacturing found applications in healthcare (custom prosthetics and medical implants), fashion, architecture, and even food.
Today, 3D printing has become an integral part of many industries. Aerospace companies use it to produce lightweight parts, while automotive manufacturers explore additive manufacturing for custom components. Bioprinting, which creates living tissue and organs, shows immense promise in the medical field.
3D printing is driving a shift towards mass customisation, allowing products to be tailored to individual preferences. It also contributes to sustainability efforts by reducing material waste. Additive manufacturing continues to expand its horizons, with researchers and innovators pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. From creating intricate prototype models to revolutionising healthcare, 3D printing has come a long way since its inception.
How to Study 3D Printing
3D printing’s impact on various industries, and everyday life, is bound to grow in the coming years. It’s forecast that the global value of the 3D printing market will have surpassed $40 billion by 2026. In other words, it’s no wonder that so many people wish to learn about additive manufacturing on some level.
How to Get a Career in 3D Printing
There are myriad ways to delve into a career in additive manufacturing. If you already have experience in design, engineering or architecture, material science or chemistry, manufacturing or production, this will be a useful starting point to finding opportunities incorporating 3D printing.
The above section may be pertinent, if you have little to no experience, for the journey of entering your exciting new career within additive manufacturing. Some of the following advice may be helpful, depending on your current areas of expertise.
- Enrol in accredited online courses that cover the different aspects of additive manufacturing.
- Look for educators in additive manufacturing or related fields like mechanical engineering.
- Seek internships, apprenticeships, or entry-level positions in companies specialising in 3D printing or manufacturing.
- Attend local workshops, seminars/webinars, and other trustworthy events which provide hands-on experience, expert knowledge, and opportunities for networking.
- Proficiency in 3D modelling software is essential for creating or modifying 3D designs. Learn software like Blender, Tinkercad, Fusion 360, or SolidWorks. Many of these software providers offer free educational versions for students.
- Acquire hands-on experience by operating 3D printers. Consider purchasing a 3D printer for personal use or gaining access to one through a local business, university, or other institution. Experiment with different materials and printing techniques.
- Create a portfolio showcasing your 3D printing projects. Include detailed descriptions of the projects, the challenges you overcame, and the skills you utilised.
- Join online communities and forums related to additive manufacturing. Participate in discussions, share your work, and seek advice from experienced individuals. Collaboration with others can enhance your learning experience.
- Consider specialising in a specific area of 3D printing, such as aerospace or healthcare, design or quality control. Specialisation can open up unique career opportunities.
How Do I Get Certified in 3D Printing?
A good way to expand or demonstrate your expertise in additive manufacturing is to get certified. You can get a 3D printing certification online, with a range of free or paid courses depending on your interest and current knowledge level.
Getting certified can also help you stand out from the crowd, as it demonstrates to potential employers or clients that you’re trustworthy and knowledgeable. Not to mention, it may boost your confidence and motivation to continue pursuing additive manufacturing.
You will be able to prove your mastery of additive manufacturing basics, theory and practise, design principles, technology, materials and processes, and quality and safety standards. Training in any niche areas, such as ethical considerations or future applications, will also help you stand out.
There are various ways to get certified in 3D printing. Your goals, background, and resources all play into the final decision.
- Online platforms such as Coursera, Udemy, or edX.
- Certification exams, such as from the Additive Manufacturing Certification Institute (AMCI) or the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME).
- Look for universities or technical schools that offer degrees or certifications in additive manufacturing or related fields like mechanical engineering.
What 3D Printing Jobs Can I Get?
Entering a career in additive manufacturing involves a diverse range of opportunities across multiple industries and disciplines.
These career paths offer diverse opportunities for individuals with various backgrounds and interests. The 3D printing industry continues to evolve, creating new roles and challenges across different sectors, opening up opportunities across industries.
3D Printer Technician/Operator
This role involves operating and maintaining 3D printers, calibrating machines, and troubleshooting technical issues. Technicians are crucial for ensuring the smooth operation of 3D printing equipment.
Technical knowledge, mechanical aptitude, understanding of printer software and hardware
Computer-Aided Design (CAD) professionals create digital 3D models of objects, products, or structures. These models serve as the blueprints for additive manufacturing. CAD designers are in high demand in industries like manufacturing, architecture, and product design.
Proficiency in CAD software (e.g., AutoCAD, SolidWorks), spatial reasoning, creativity in design
Materials engineers specialise in developing and testing materials suitable for 3D printing. They work to improve the properties of materials like plastics, metals, and ceramics for additive manufacturing processes.
Materials science knowledge, research skills, understanding of material properties.
Application engineers bridge the gap between technology and its practical use. In additive manufacturing, they work closely with clients to identify how additive manufacturing can solve their specific problems and customise solutions.
Technical expertise, communication skills, problem-solving
Quality Control Specialist
Ensuring the quality and reliability of 3D-printed products is crucial. Quality control specialists inspect and test 3D-printed parts to meet industry standards and specifications.
Attention to detail, quality assurance techniques, knowledge of industry
Regulatory Affairs Specialist
Ensuring compliance with industry regulations and standards is essential, especially in fields like aerospace and healthcare. Regulatory affairs specialists help navigate legal and safety requirements.
Knowledge of regulations, attention to detail, documentation skills
3D Printing Journalist/Blogger
If you have a passion for writing and a deep understanding of additive manufacturing, a career in journalism or blogging can be an avenue to share insights, trends, and news related to the industry.
Writing and communication skills, industry knowledge
Medical Sector 3D Printing Jobs
Healthcare 3D printing is a rapidly growing field that offers various job opportunities. These roles represent just a portion of the diverse career opportunities available in healthcare additive manufacturing. As the field continues to advance, it opens up new avenues for professionals to contribute to improved patient care and innovative medical solutions.
Clinical engineers manage and maintain 3D printing equipment used in healthcare settings. They ensure that the technology is operating safely and efficiently, whilst troubleshooting issues, and training staff in its use.
Industry knowledge, regulatory awareness, 3D modelling experience
Regulatory Affairs Specialist
Regulatory affairs specialists ensure that printed components, devices and products comply with healthcare regulations and safety standards. They handle documentation and submissions to regulatory agencies.
Industry knowledge, risk management, data analysis, project management
Bioprinting engineers specialise in creating 3D-printed living tissues and organs. They work at the intersection of biology and engineering, using bio-inks and advanced 3D printing technologies to produce biological structures for medical research and transplantation.
Technical understanding, clinical and research knowledge, medical ethics awareness
Aerospace and Aviation Sector 3D Printing Jobs
Aerospace and aviation industries have been early adopters of additive manufacturing technology due to its ability to create complex, lightweight, and precision components. The integration of additive manufacturing in these industries continues to grow, leading to exciting career prospects and innovations in aircraft and spacecraft design and production.
Aerospace engineers use 3D printing to design and manufacture components for aircraft, spacecraft, and drones. They work on improving the performance and efficiency of aerospace systems.
Astronautics and aerodynamics education, material sciences, 3D modelling experience
Aircraft mechanics with additive manufacturing expertise can repair and replace parts using additive manufacturing techniques. They ensure that aircraft are in optimal working condition.
Regulatory and safety expertise, manual dexterity, mechanical aptitude
Aerospace Research Scientist
Research scientists in the aerospace field investigate new 3D printing techniques and materials for aerospace applications, driving innovation in the industry.
3D modelling experience, aerodynamics education, safety and regulatory knowledge
Automotive and Motorsports Sector 3D Printing Jobs
Motorsports and the automotive industry have also embraced additive manufacturing technology for various applications. Professionals in these fields play a crucial role in driving innovation and performance improvements in both race cars and everyday vehicles.
Race Car Designer
Designers of race cars leverage 3D printing to create lightweight, aerodynamic components that enhance the speed and handling of race vehicles.
Automotive or vehicular background, 3D modelling experience, engineering knowledge
Automotive Materials Scientist
Materials scientists research and develop new materials suitable for 3D printing in the automotive industry, focusing on durability, weight reduction, and cost-effectiveness.
Materials and 3D modelling expertise, testing and regulation knowledge
Electric Vehicle (EV) Technician
EV technicians use additive manufacturing to create customised parts for electric vehicles, contributing to the growth of the EV industry.
Automotive and electrical backgrounds, knowledge of safety protocols, awareness of innovation
Energy Sector 3D Printing Jobs
The energy sector has also seen the adoption of 3D printing technology for various applications, especially in the production of components for renewable energy systems or traditional energy infrastructure. Professionals in these careers contribute to improving the efficiency, sustainability, and reliability of energy systems worldwide.
Renewable Energy Technician
Technicians focused on energy storage, nuclear and hydrogen cells, geothermal, wind, solar, or hydroelectric systems employ additive manufacturing to create specialised components.
Awareness of renewable energy technologies and 3D printing technologies, knowledge of regulations, adaptability and innovation
Power Plant Technician
Technicians in power plants use 3D printing to create custom parts for maintaining and repairing equipment, ensuring the efficient operation of energy generation facilities.
Adaptability, good under pressure, understanding of energy systems, awareness of safety protocols
Energy Materials Scientist
Materials scientists research advanced materials suitable for additive manufacturing in the energy sector, focusing on durability and efficiency.
3D printing and materials knowledge, education or background in energy sector
Conclusion — How to Enter the World of Additive Manufacturing
In conclusion, embarking on a journey into 3D printing is an exciting and rewarding endeavour.
As we’ve explored in this guide, the key to success lies in structured learning, hands-on practice, and a curious, innovative mindset. Whether you’re a student looking to pursue a career in this cutting-edge field or an enthusiast eager to unleash your creativity, the steps outlined here provide a solid foundation to get started.
Additive manufacturing is a rapidly evolving technology with applications spanning multiple industries, from healthcare and aerospace to energy and motorsports.
By staying informed about the latest developments, reading books, networking with experts, and continuously honing your skills, you can position yourself at the forefront of this transformative technology.