Since its beginning, the additive manufacturing industry has experienced significant growth, evident in Wohlers Associates’ yearly reports. Behind this growth is a talented workforce. But, as with most disruptive technologies, the sector growth happens much quicker than the pace of learning, leading to a talented workforce.
This lag has created what is commonly known as the additive manufacturing skills gap; the notion that there are simply not enough talented professionals to fill jobs and thus meet the needs and demand from the AM employers.
“The gap between supply and demand will continue to worsen for the next three to five years. After this time academic qualifications that can be gained through universities and other sources of training and development will emerge to help bridge the skills gap,” says Director and Founder of i-amdigital.com, Nick Pearce.
The Additive Manufacturing Talent of the Future
Stating that the AM industry needs talent is easy. Identifying what type of talent is the challenge. In order to train the future workforce, we must first understand what skills are demanded by the industry, and what sort of talent is required to enable the industry growth.
i-amdigital.com has researched the additive manufacturing industry to draw up a profile of AM talent of the future, based on what the industry employers need together with the general industry needs, now and in the future.
Broad Knowledge of Manufacturing
AM industry leaders continue to demand a workforce with interdisciplinary profiles and a broad knowledge of manufacturing. This is because AM is not any single technology, but a whole integrated set of manufacturing technology and processes. Having a broad knowledge of manufacturing enables professionals to better understand the relationship between the different processes, materials, and technologies. This will help the workforce to innovate and optimize new products for the AM technology.
With the vast and almost incomprehensible amount of applications, the AM industry needs to help people understand the exact capabilities and limitations of the machines and tools. Having application knowledge will enable professionals to support their customers in either using the technology or understanding its capabilities, leading to a wider adoption of AM technologies across multiple sectors.
To establish an efficient AM process, engineers should understand how to design for the AM process. There is an increasing need amongst AM employers for people with design for AM (DfAM) skills, and design is one of the most demanded disciplines in AM. Bringing in people who understand the process of manufacturing within AM; who understand conventional manufacturing; and who can combine that knowledge through the design work, is a key enabler for the AM technology moving forward.
The ideal AM professional will also possess some commercial knowledge, enabling them to maximize AM’s potential within their organization. Understanding how a business works and understanding how the use of AM technology can improve the business through profitability, productivity, market share, KPI’s, etc. will help the AM professionals build compelling business cases for why an organization should use AM technology for certain processes. Without this, the cost-benefit analysis of implementing AM technology will mean very little to the decision makers of the business.
Knowledge and experience from vertical markets
Having experience in an AM vertical (automotive, aerospace, medical, etc.) will enable the workforce to understand where in the manufacturing processes AM will be useful. Having a deep knowledge about specific regulations, material applications, supply chain, and industry trends in a certain vertical will allow a professional to understand how to take advantage of AM in the manufacturing processes.
Knowledge of additive manufacturing technologies
The workforce does not need to know all the different AM technologies in detail as, most often, companies will carry out internal trainings on their specific used technology. However, going into the industry with a prior general knowledge of the AM technologies and the materials being used, is useful to ensure a smooth transition into AM.
Establishing an efficient AM production process requires the workforce to understand how to design for the AM process, what materials can be used, and how to use them.
Design and applications knowledge will guide traditional manufacturing into AM; the knowledge of applications and usability of the AM technology will help traditional manufacturing companies understand where and for what the AM technology can be used; how they can implement it in their existing or new processes; and how it can reduce time and cost of manufacturing.
Combining applications knowledge with the commercial knowledge will form a business case for the wider adoption and use of additive manufacturing; applications knowledge will help traditional manufacturing companies transition into AM by showing them how and where AM technology can be used, and how it can optimise certain parts of their manufacturing processes. This business case (built by application and commercial knowledge) will need DfAM knowledge to redesign or design opponents, processes, machines, materials, etc.
The ideal AM professional of the future will not only have hard skills as mentioned above, but will also encompass several key soft skills, in order to make them succeed in the AM industry.
Mental Elasticity and Complex Problem Solving
The AM technology and its usability in different sectors, organisations and manufacturing processes, is complex, and there are often many variables to consider in order to define certain solutions. Therefore, the workforce needs to be able to solve complex problems.
Critical Thinking and Analytical skills for Decision Making
AM technology is often being pushed to the limits. Critical thinking is key to not just ride the wave of the traditional ways of using the technology, but to break out of the cycle and reinvent and experiment with new techniques, design, technologies, and materials.
Finding new applications for the AM technology; printing new parts using AM; and inventing new materials for printing, all require creativity.
Interpersonal communication skills
To help AM break through, interpersonal communication skills is crucial to build compelling cases and argue for the use of AM towards internal organizations or clients looking to adopt AM.
New technologies and new applications spur every day, and the workforce needs to keep up. If they do not keep up, and if they do not learn proactively, they will become obsolete.
These skills make up the ideal AM workforce that can ensure a sustainable and growing additive manufacturing industry for years to come, and these are the type of skills that aspiring AM professionals should try to obtain, in their pursuit of entering the additive manufacturing industry.
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