How to ensure you have the skills to make the most of 3D printing

Additive manufacturing skillsWith Additive Manufacturing  accelerating at a rapid pace, a persistent theme for engineering and manufacturing companies is the demand for upskilling and training in order to fully optimise the use of the technology. Matthias Gukelberger, Vice President and Head of Services EMEA, Stratasys discusses the skills issues faced by today’s engineers and manufacturers, and more importantly, how these can be overcome.

Additive manufacturing, like any recent technological advancement, requires a certain amount of technical knowledge and expertise.

In the 2018 State of 3D Printing study by Sculpteo, 93% of companies using 3D printing said the technology gave them a competitive advantage, including reducing time-to-market and supporting shorter production runs. However, the biggest obstacles to adoption include talent, quality, business applicability, and most notably, expertise. Be that in the operation of the systems, the deployment of the materials, or simply designing with additive manufacturing in mind.

In the past, these necessary skills were limited to rapid prototyping or design departments. However, today, as the technology takes big strides into manufacturing and onto production floors, the knowledge required to fully optimise use of the technology is rapidly evolving. So, given the increasing importance of 3D printing across a multitude of industries, how can engineering and manufacturing companies best ensure their current and future workforce are prepared to meet the challenges?

Start at the Beginning – Education and Evolution

No industry or company operates in a vacuum, so an open commitment to additive manufacturing education at all levels is absolutely essential for all companies to ensure a skilled and productive workforce. Engineering firms have the potential to overcome key gaps in skills by supporting relevant education institutions, whether that be at secondary schools, universities or at higher-research levels.

Additive manufacturing skills
If industry is to make the most of 3D printing it needs the right skills

For instance, globally, Stratasys and its customers are forming partnerships with education institutions to continue to advance the engineers of tomorrow. Recently, Stratasys partnered with the Cambridge University 3D Printing Society (CU3DSoc), which has formed a nationwide student 3D printing network to ensure members are best prepared with the required additive manufacturing skillset to enter the workforce.

The same collaborations can be seen within universities across Europe, including Tecnun, Universidad de Navarra, the University of Linköping, and the University of Applied Sciences Ravensburg-Weingarten. By working to enhance the education of engineering students, we are tackling the issue at source to ensure the future gap in skills is continuously decreasing.

That said, education institutions are not simply pushing these agendas for students, but they are also creating advanced curriculums for today’s workforce across a range of industries. In Germany, for instance, the leading technical university, the Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule (RWTH) Aachen and its Aachen Centre of Additive Manufacturing (ACAM), is working with Stratasys and key members from local and international industry to share knowledge and create the appropriate curriculum and training courses necessary to upskill students and workers.

Relying on Collaborative, Localised Support

This continually evolving education process is a key pillar towards the successful growth of additive manufacturing. As recently as three years ago, the knowledge and training element of our business did not exist, a shift which is indicative of the huge skills gap the industry is currently facing. So, in response to this we, and other manufacturers like us, have adapted our service offering to meet these challenges.

Firstly, engineering firms can turn to the support of dedicated, local training courses. For instance, we launched the Stratasys Academy providing high-end training for customers to maximise the efficiency in their daily work with additive manufacturing.

In the UK, this expertise can be accessed through the first Stratasys Authorised Training Centre, operated by our Platinum Partner, Tri Tech 3D. The goal is to offer the best support possible to users and enable them to maximise their investment in 3D printing by avoiding any unnecessary expenses through production errors and material wastage. This site offers high-level expertise and training for users of Stratasys FDM and PolyJet 3D printing technologies, including design for additive courses.

A wide range of courses are available, enabling attendees to increase their knowledge for a plethora of design and production applications. By relying on this kind of support, companies can tackle issues such as how to best optimise the technology for specific application demands, be that colour, texturing, or advanced materials’ properties. Or, for applications on the manufacturing floor, this could include ensuring the machine is printing 24 hours a day or designing production line tools with previously impossible geometries and properties.

Beyond industry training courses, engineering firms can also turn to industry experts for application specific advice. This approach is a pillar of what we, and other manufacturers like us, do. For instance, the Stratasys Consulting team, based in the Midlands, advises companies around the globe how to best leverage additive manufacturing to drive innovation, productivity and cost savings. Using a proven toolset, industry experts can provide engineers with efficient and tailored strategic guidance on the benefits of additive manufacturing for their business, providing them with the skillset to identify additive manufacturing opportunities for the future.

The potential of additive manufacturing is enormous, and it is important that companies do not feel overwhelmed by the adoption of this technology. Through commitment to the education of current and future workers, to relying on industry experts such as Stratasys Consulting or undertaking authorised 3D printing training, accessing the skills needed to initiate and optimise the use of 3D printing can be an easily accessible task.