The Need for Skills in the AM Ecosystem


Aya Bentur  

AM Apprenticeship at MTC

One of the 6 core building blocks of AM capability development according to Deloitte is a skilled workforce (infographic below). Deloitte also states that the current skills gap in the US alone could leave 2 million manufacturing jobs unfilled by 2020. Additive Manufacturing requires skills far beyond the operation of a machine. The fast pace of advancements both in the technology and adjacent fields creates a gap between professionals, the technology, and its integration. There is a need for up to date skilled professionals who not only understand the technology but its implications, applications, and potential, who can bring technical knowledge closer together with business operation expertise. Here is our next article in the highlighting the needs series, #AMneeds – The Need for Skills in the AM Ecosystem.

Opportunity Additive Manufacturing Capability Deloitte
Opportunity Additive Manufacturing Capability Deloitte

Fast Technology

Technology is changing fast, especially additive manufacturing. In order to keep up, designers and engineers need to know how to design for 3D printing vs designing for traditional manufacturing, past limitations no longer apply, in a way it requires un-learning. More than that, because AM encompasses a multitude of technologies, they need to constantly learn what’s new in machines and materials, what’s possible to achieve, especially in parts that require mechanical characteristics such as durability or flexibility. Technical universities can provide the basic information relevant at a specific moment in time but it’s up to companies to constantly educate their employees, conducting workshops and in-house training. Ideally, forming collaborations within the ecosystem, between companies, service providers, material experts and so on, that enrich each other. A recent initiative we hope to see the fruits of is led by ASTM’s Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence which was established in order to advance AM by addressing industry needs and gaps, such as training. Together with Tooling U-SME and UL, they founded a partnership dedicated to enhancing training and supporting manufacturers who wish to increase their AM capabilities. “Aligning UL’s multitiered Additive Manufacturing Training Program to Tooling U-SME’s Additive Manufacturing Certification program underscores our commitment to enhancing professional development of the advanced manufacturing workforce,” said Jeannine Kunz, vice president, Tooling U-SME (up top AM Apprenticeship at MTC, another ASTM partner).

Between Professionals and the Technology

The gap between professionals and AM technology is not limited to the engineer level. There is a need for skilled professionals at managerial levels as well, people who understand how to fully take advantage of what AM has to offer, and how to implement AM thinking. Last year’s ING report quoted Adwin Kannekens, Sales director of Wilting: “Technical shortcomings of 3D printers are not the main hurdle for wider use of 3D printing in metal products. Lack of knowledge about 3D printing and cold feet are the most important hurdles.” The AM ecosystem needs more qualified experts in higher positions. Professionals with technical backgrounds moving up to managerial positions can bring an understanding of the field, and further integrate new business models and strategic thinking based on digital manufacturing. For example, Joseph Bellis is an application engineer turned specialist who was recently appointed Additive Manufacturing Sales and Technical Specialist at Matsuura (part additively manufactured by Matsuura).

xMatsuura Additive Manufactured Part

New Roles New Skills

The recent HP report conducted by A.T. Kearney analyzes the jobs within the AM ecosystem. One of their observations is that logistics roles will be reduced on one hand but on the other, they will require an adaptation to the new supply chain and its complexity. With that in mind, logistics companies need to focus on customization, local yet more individualized delivery and customer service. Rather than seeing AM as a threat they look at the opportunities it opens.

Teaching an Adjustable Mindset

For technical universities to maintain their industrial relevancy, they need to adjust constantly, maintain a connection with industry and research, teaching technology before and while it’s coming up to speed. Most universities offer a few courses addressing additive manufacturing due to the cost of procuring multiple systems, but there is a need to not only expose the students to up to date technologies but also teach an adjustable mindset. Understanding AM as a technology and a business model is the basis for integrating additive manufacturing in industry.  The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) published a report last year looking at the AM market. Among other factors, they identified the growing skill gap in US manufacturing. The report shows that only 34% of manufacturing executives of US-based companies have implemented additive manufacturing initiatives. Professor Timothy W. Simpson, director of the Additive Manufacturing & Design Graduate Program at Penn State University commented on the situation: “Progress is being made, but the gap is widening as the field matures and more companies realize that they need to get into the game—or get left behind, we need to take what is already out there and find ways to efficiently and effectively scale it nationally and diffuse it into organizations (companies, universities, etc.) at all levels. We have to work together and partner—the demand is too great and no one can do it alone” (below additive manufacturing demonstration at Penn State University).

Penn State University Additive Manufacturing

Integration Integration Integration

According to Fictiv’s survey on 3D printing practices: “54% of developers consider themselves “very” or “extremely” knowledgeable about manufacturing processes But 27% of manufacturers consider their clients to be “very” or “extremely” knowledgeable about manufacturing”. This gap in perception indicates that alongside the need for skilled professionals there is a need for communicating what are the skills and knowledge needed, where are the gaps and how to address them. As AM requires integration between various aspects of production, learning should also be integrated. It’s preferable if there is a flow between all occupations involved in order to understand what knowledge is missing and where. A partnership which includes various skilled professionals across the AM ecosystem – designers, engineers, manufacturing engineers, process engineers, software engineers, material engineers, logistic roles, and so on, can help minimize the skill gap.

What are your thoughts on the need for skills in AM? Tell us about it or any other #AMneeds you encountered in the comments below. For more inspiration and information follow us on Pinterest or subscribe to our newsletter for weekly updates.

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