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STEM Talent Needed to Employ Additive Manufacturing Technologies and Advance Innovation

According to a PwC study, additive manufacturing or 3DP is becoming mainstream; it has the potential to add to the nation’s global competitiveness, but challenges — including finding those with the skills to employ these new technologies — must also be addressed.

Q3 2014
Additive Manufacturing Transforming Manufacturing
Additive manufacturing or 3DP is becoming mainstream; it has the potential to bring jobs back to the U.S. and add to the nation’s global competitiveness, but challenges must also be addressed.

According to a recent report from PricewaterhouseCoopers, 3D printing (3DP), also known as additive manufacturing, may be triggering a transformation in U.S. industrial manufacturing — affecting everything from product design and production to restructured supply chains. The report, 3-D printing and the new shape of industrial manufacturing, prepared in conjunction with the Manufacturing Institute, indicates that two thirds of the 100-plus industrial manufacturers surveyed are currently implementing 3DP either by experimenting with the technology or by already using it for prototypes or final products.

“Applying 3DP for rapid prototyping is nothing new for many manufacturers as it enables them and their suppliers to sidestep the often laborious and costly traditional processes,” says Bob McCutcheon, PwC’s U.S. industrial products leader. “However, we’re starting to see signs that the technology is on the cusp of becoming mainstream, and companies need to understand the disruptions and the opportunities that it could create.”

Just this month, Aerojet Rocketdyne, a GenCorp company, successfully completed a series of tests on a Bantam demonstration engine built entirely with additive manufacturing. The tests were a key step in the development of a more cost-effective engine family for booster, upper-stage, and in-space propulsion. Jay Littles, director of Advanced Launch Propulsion Programs at Aerojet Rocketdyne, told The Wall Street Journal, “We are integrating the full capability of additive manufacturing processes to evolve a proven, reliable, affordable design. We are doing so with technical depth and rigor to meet our unparalleled quality and safety requirements."

And, Sigma Labs, Inc. — a developer of inspection systems for metal-based additive and other advanced manufacturing technologies — recently acquired the latest generation 3D metal printer from Germany to be utilized at its Santa Fe, N.M., facility. Company President and CEO Mark Cola says Sigma Labs now enters a new manufacturing phase, with enhanced offerings to the additive manufacturing marketplace.

Despite all the advances in additive manufacturing, manufacturers employing this technology still face the challenge of finding the right talent to utilize it. “We, as a country, need to include 3D printing training in the same way we need STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) skills,” notes Lonnie Love, Ph.D., a researcher with Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the PwC report.

“As the 3DP industry grows, we’ll see a lot of talent needed in manufacturing that can carry out designs,” adds S. Kent Rockwell, CEO and chairman of ExOne, a global provider of 3D printing machinery and printed products to industrial customers. “3D printing will give manufacturing a whole new world of opportunities, and there will be a new type of entrant into manufacturing — the free thinkers and the creative.”

Those entering the workforce may also be attracted to 3DP’s “cleaner” sort of manufacturing, and this may result in reshoring jobs back to the U.S. that were offshored 20 years ago, explains Jon Cobb, executive vice president for corporate affairs at Stratasys, a 3DP printer maker.

America Makes
Interestingly, the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute has been dubbed America Makes — it’s the nation’s leading and collaborative partner in additive manufacturing and 3DP technology research, discovery, creation, and innovation aimed at increasing the nation’s global competitiveness.

America Makes has just awarded a major project to Optomec — called “Re-Born in the USA” — that will focus on advancing additive manufacturing technology for the repair of aerospace metal components for the U.S. Air Force. Major partners in the project include GE Aviation, Lockheed Martin, United Technologies Research Center and Rolls Royce. The process can replace conventional repair processes such as manual welding.

All of this is changing the image of manufacturing for future employees, with manufacturing jobs becoming “less blue-collar and more white-collar,” says Gardner Carrick, Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at The Manufacturing Institute in PwC’s report.

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