So, what will become of traditional professionals in the 3D printing era?
“What will become of traditional professionals, such as engravers and providers of machining services?
Will they still have work?”
Those questions are regularly asked by audiences in my lectures about digital manufacturing and 3D printing. The answer is that the use of innovative 3D printing technology and related developments may indeed make some traditional jobs redundant, yet they will also usher in an entirely new generation of professionals, or make traditional professionals embrace new tools and technologies.
Having grown up in our family printing business, my roots are in conventional and digital printing. I remember our very talented graphic artist preparing beautiful mock-ups. He used to glue letters, mix colors and draw sketches, using various rulers and a pair of compasses, while also working with paint, brushes and worksheets. The advent of the first small Macintosh computers and the emergence of modern graphic designers, providing computer graphics services, did not deflect him from his course. He went on using his old methods. Yet, these methods were gradually becoming obsolete and irrelevant. By now, computer graphics have become the primary tool of the graphic arts industry. The ship has sailed for those who have failed to adopt them: the industry has moved on without them.
It is important to know the additive manufacturing processes and the many opportunities they open up, so as to develop yourself and remain essential in the modern world.
It is well known that the 3D printing process consists of five main steps:
3. Preparation for printing
5. Post-processing — enhancements (sanding, painting, colorizing)
Each of these steps requires careful study, delving into details, and learning from experience. Knowing that 3D printing is a process that transforms a digital model into a physical object, we can obtain an understanding of the various needs and actions involved. These will determine the required job profiles: technical and application-related.
For the most part, the professional tasks involved in 3D printing relate to the disciplines of engineering and design. Therefore, it is recommended to enhance one’s personal knowledge and engineering background as much as possible, with an emphasis on mechanical engineering and industrial design.
Product development involves aspects from various fields of engineering, integrating electrical engineering, mechanics, and design. Each of these three worlds lead on to other disciplines. For example, in designing a package for an electrical circuit product, one should understand the process of manufacturing the package, as well as exposure to high temperatures, electromagnetic noise filtering and UV resistance.
Today already, the additive manufacturing industry requires professionals specializing in mechanical engineering, electronic engineering, product engineering, CAD, quality assurance, service engineering and so on. In addition, software and hardware specialists are needed to provide operating and maintenance services for the machines themselves.
The capabilities of the printers and materials, combined with high accessibility, virtually eliminate the gap between engineers and design professionals.
But additive manufacturing also impacts other fields: software, materials, advertising, law and operations. Each of these fields requires an understanding of the development and production processes involved, so customers can be served in the best possible way.
For example, the legal field is of great interest to 3D printing, because there are a lot of unresolved issues concerning intellectual property or protection against faulty design or manufacturing. Other examples can be found in the areas of materials and chemistry. Developing polymers and digital materials with different mechanical characteristics requires further careful study and research.
A thorough grasp of the STEAM competencies (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) will enable professionals to be more flexible, dynamic, creative and committed to the development processes. Understanding processes and creating a common professional language will assist the various specialists in understanding each other en route to producing a perfect product.
Bringing a good dose of imagination to the potential of 3D printing, we might even envisage a chef using digital tools to create a new recipe. Today, printing edible materials is already a possibility. Who knows, maybe in a few years we will be able to download a culinary drawing by Asaf Granit, an Israeli chef, from the Internet?
One day, sooner than we may think, an architect based on the moon might need to remotely monitor the operations of a printer sent to Mars. The purpose of that printer? Building a housing project for a future colony on Mars.
The gift of prophecy was given to fools and infants, or so a Jewish saying goes. Yet science fiction movies have inspired the development of various technologies. Prepare now by adding 3D printing capabilities to your toolset!