Training the Next Generation of Engineers for Additive Manufacturing
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on November 06, 2019 |

Additive manufacturing (AM) is rapidly gaining viability in mass production, which means that it’s even more important for students entering the workforce to understand how to use and design for this technology. At the same time, emerging AM tools that make mass production possible are so new that it can be difficult to get the hands-on experience necessary to be the ideal workplace candidate.

Fortunately, there are schools and programs that provide training for even the newest AM systems. Ogden-Weber Technical College, for instance, uses a unique method to prepare its students for learning how to design for one of the latest AM platforms gaining widespread adoption in mass production—HP’s Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) Technology —so that they can immediately start using those skills upon completion of the program.

In this article, we explore the opportunities for engineering education to prepare students to work with MJF and AM in general, as well as highlight the potential benefits, both for the workers and for manufacturing as a whole, of a new generation of engineers who bring AM-related skills to the workplace.

(Image courtesy of HP.)
(Image courtesy of HP.)

AM Skills Should Be Learned in School

In a workshop with industry, government and academic experts, the National Science Foundation proposed the following key areas as necessary for teaching the next generation of AM engineers at all levels:

  • AM processes and material relationships
  • Fundamental knowledge of material sciences and manufacturing processes
  • Professional acumen for critical thinking and problem solving
  • Design for Additive manufacturing practices
  • Cross functional teaming and ideation techniques for seeding creativity.

As with any manufacturing process, there are skills that need to be developed to implement AM. In a report put out by SME, titled “Experts in Demand: Growth in Metal AM Creates Need for Professionals,” the authors determined a number of principles necessary for those entering the metal 3D printing space. While the report is directed toward metal AM, the concepts can be applied to polymer AM processes, as well: 

  • Design for AM principles
  • Planning and executing 3D scanning and printing/AM processes
  • AM process validation
  • Advanced troubleshooting of AM machines
  • Additive process development
  • Part quality measurement and assessment, including part properties geometry and tolerances
  • Basic knowledge of materials selection
  • Cost estimation of additive parts

Some AM Programs are Already Available, With More on the Way

There are a growing number of higher education programs dedicated to AM, ranging from vocational and community college courses to universities and graduate schools. Detailing each one would be beyond the scope of this article, so here are just a few that offer a glimpse into the variety of courses out there: 

  • Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology has undergraduate and graduate studies in AM that include manufacturing, materials CAD and design.
  • University of Maryland hosts AM graduate programs in which students can participate in hands-on design and production training.
  • The University of Texas at El Paso provides a graduate certificate in 3D engineering and AM as a part of its mechanical engineering department. This is a 12-month program for existing graduate students and professionals in the industry who would like to advance their understanding of the topic further.
  • Penn State has AM graduate programs aimed at analytical and practical skills for design, modeling, fabrication and inspection. This includes hands-on labs and the ability to specialize in sub-sectors.

Bringing the Real-World into the Classroom

Ogden-Weber Technical College is an interesting example of a community college that offers immediately applicable experience to students of any level, from beginners to graduate degree holders.

Ogden-Weber puts experience at the center of its CAD program. Ogden-Weber’s Justin Andrews described the program’s structure, saying that students of any skill level meet in a well-equipped lab where two teachers guide them through a series of industrial class assignments that are as close to real-world projects as possible.

“You register and you take the classes you need, when you need, any time you need. We don’t have any kind of semesters,” Andrews explained. “You’re in this environment like you would be an engineer or architect working on projects, being responsible for your time and pacing things. We sit down and go through projects as though a client were reviewing a design and identifying any problems that exist. Everyone’s moving forward at their own speed.”

As students move forward on assignments, Andrews helps them as they face obstacles on the path. 

The lab features a variety of in-house 3D printers including industrial fused deposition modeling machines, desktop fused filament fabrication and stereolithography 3D printers, Markforged continuous reinforcement machines and binder jetting printers. However, the school’s new HP Jet Fusion 580 full-color 3D printer has been adopted as the primary tool for learning AM, particularly for production.

“Off the bat, the first thing we do is introduce them to their hardware. They treat it as any other machine in the lab. We’ll build their knowledge over time, but they send a part to that printer day one.”

In particular, Andrews said that the MJF system was ideal for the school’s strategy of teaching students many aspects of manufacturing, from design to fabrication, with the program using the technology for prototyping, presentation and production. This means that students are meant to be able to use the technology both as a means of batch manufacturing and an aid to serve other production processes, such as injection molding.

Andrews even has students simulate metal power bed fusion AM with the MJF machine. Class members will simulate the parameters of a metal AM system by creating support structures for prints that would be necessary in a selective laser melting printer.

A Generation of Manufacturing Engineers with AM Skills will Impact Manufacturing and Industrial AM

Whether it’s through Ogden-Weber or any other school’s AM program, the end goal is to see students enter the market with the proper AM skills. As a result, manufacturing and industrial AM could be entirely transformed.

Immediately obvious would be the unique approach to designing products, as Andrews pointed out. “We’re going to break some of those links from the long chain of design to production to end use,” Andrews said. “Designing was once remote from the end product. It is no longer that way and it will not be that way in the future. Designers and engineers will be intimately part of the end use of the product. There is no disconnect and the AM systems that we have allow designers to get their hands dirty.”

In fact, the entire manufacturing supply chain is impacted by this truncating of the design-to-production process. “All of the other factors like supply lines and chains get shortened,” Andrews added. “Tooling becomes free and changeover becomes instantaneous.”

In other words, bringing AM and engineers who know how to leverage it properly into any manufacturing business will speed up production, which should ultimately reduce costs and introduce added value to goods and services. This in turn will drive competing companies to adopt AM and train their staff in the use of the technology, speeding up entire industries on the whole.

Moreover, learning AM skills may bring added creativity to design and production. In a survey from Minetola et al., it was found that hands-on access to AM helps increase the ease of learning, perceived interest and motivation in mechanical engineering graduate students. Early exposure to AM techniques improves the development of “think-additive” approaches to product design later on. When extrapolated to professionals in the design and manufacturing fields, we can imagine how designers might approach problems from a novel “think-additive” perspective.

AM Skills Lead to Better Career Prospects for Young Engineers

The global AM market was worth $9.3 billion in 2018, growing 18 percent since the year before, according to SmarTech Publishing, a leading 3D printing analysis firm. Deloitte sees the industry exploding at an even faster rate, reporting that the global AM market is expected to grow past $21 billion in revenue by 2020. At the same time, the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) found nine out of ten manufacturers reporting difficulty recruiting the right employees.

SME further noted that an increasing number of “companies are hiring mechanical and materials engineers with a specialized background in AM processes and material science, AM Application and Design Engineers that can understand customer needs and leverage the AM design and manufacturing space effectively, and Manufacturing Engineers with a new mindset regarding the AM manufacturing deployment and supply chain logistics. For some smaller companies, positions may be combined (i.e. Design Engineer and Application Engineer).”

Those with some familiarity with workshop and production environments might imagine a number of positions that engineering and design students might plan for. This could include machine technicians and operators and field service technicians, as well as management that might oversee these technicians, and manufacturing, design, and application engineers.

However, the landscape is changing, and some companies are re-envisioning the world of production in terms of “the digital thread.” This oft-invoked term represents the integrated view of the life of a product from design to manufacturing to aftermarket service and new design iterations. The phrase often accounts for numerous other advanced manufacturing technologies that are transforming the way things are made in addition to AM. These include the Internet of Things, product lifecycle management software and artificial intelligence.

In a report titled “Partners in Connection – The Digital Workforce Succession in Manufacturing,” the U.S. manufacturing innovation hub MXD (formerly DMDII) uses the digital thread in framing the roles that students and professionals might plan for with regard to their AM skills:

  • Digital enterprise: an organizational-level domain focused on business connections. Potential positions include: Chief Digital Officer.
  • Digital thread: a domain related to guiding, integrating and securing data across the digital thread. Potential positions include: IT/OT Systems Engineers, Digital Twin Architects and Manufacturing Cybersecurity Strategists.
  • Digital design: an area dedicated to the digital tools and skills needed for designing, simulating and planning products from development to production and operation. Potential positions include: Worker Experience Designer to the Model Based Systems Engineering.
  • Digital manufacturing and processing: whereas “digital design” is centered on design tools, this discipline relates to actual manufacturing, processing and assembly tools. Potential positions include: Digital Manufacturing Technician to the Digital Manufacturing Chief Technology Officer.
  • Digital product: this area is focused on the digital data of a product after its been made and sold, including aftermarket support and product feedback. Potential positions include: Product Embedded Cognitive Systems Specialist to the Digital Product Market Customization Engineer.
  • Supply network: this domain relates to supply and manufacture of materials to factories and product customers. Potential positions include: Supply Network Quality Data Analysts to Automated Guided Vehicle (AGV) Systems Specialists.
  • Omni: this is a catch-all category that represents knowledge and understanding of all the above domains. Potential positions include: Continuous Improvement Specialists to Technical Educators.

This may not be the traditional method for framing work roles, but they may be the job positions of the future. Regardless of the actual titles, the skills behind them can often be deciphered. What they represent on a larger scale is the digitization of the supply chain, from design to aftermarket service. Without AM, such a digitization would be impossible. In the end, then, what new AM engineers and designers really receive by becoming players in the AM industry is participating in completely transforming the world.

For more information on additive manufacturing and the education of the next generation of engineers, visit HP.com/go/3DPrint or check out the webinar “How HP MultiJet Fusion is Being Adopted and Incorporated into an Academic Environment.”


HP has sponsored this post.  All opinions are mine.  –Michael Molitch-Hou

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