President Barack Obama said it has the "potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything." A recent Freelancer.com study found that it has experienced unprecedented growth. A MyCorporation infographic also estimated that it will become a $5.2 billion industry by 2020, with a projected 14 percent annual growth between 2012 and 2017.
As the 3D printing industry booms, what does it mean for job seekers? From designers to nontechnical positions, here are 10 jobs that will be created or get a boost from 3D printing.
1. 3D design
3D printing relies heavily on designers who can take a product idea and translate it into something that can feasibly be brought to life. Thanks to its growth, 3D printing will create jobs for 3D designers at 3D printing firms, in companies as part of creative teams, and as freelancers.
3D printers are being used in many design disciplines, such as product design, medical device design, architectural visualization and entertainment design, said Erol Gunduz, a professor at New York University's School of Continuing and Professional Studies (NYU-SCPS), which offers programs in 3D printing, design and modeling.
To be competitive, job seekers should gain hands-on experience in 3D technologies and stay-up-to-date on how companies are using 3D printing. For instance, recent graduate student designers and researchers who are familiar with 3D printing methods have the benefit of knowing how to use the technology within their design process and in supporting its usage within company initiatives, Gunduz said.
"This gives them a significant advantage when looking for career opportunities within creative fields," he said.
2. 3D computer-aided design (CAD) modeling
3D printing would not be possible without CAD experts, who have the skills and expertise to convert product designs into digital blueprints that 3D printers need. Along with product designers, there will be a demand for 3D CAD modelers.
"I see a lot more demand for CAD and 3D modeling jobs on the horizon because of 3D printing," said Alex English, owner of ProtoParadigm, a 3D printing business that also performs research and development on 3D printing hardware and new printing materials.
Although 3D CAD professionals are also needed to construct models for mass 3D printing, they are especially important for custom products. "Bespoke manufacturing and custom prototyping both rely on the user's ability to conceptualize the object they want and accurately create its digital representation," English said.
As such, 3D CAD modeling jobs will require 3D printing-specific modeling skills, such as feature size, geometrical constraints and knowledge of materials, he said.
3. Research and development (R&D)
Wearable tech is all the buzz — and not just in the gadget world. From 3D-printed shoes to 3D-printed clothes and accessories, 3D printing is the fashion of the future. Just as the 3D printing industry will require more product designers and CAD modelers, jobs will also open up for forward-thinking R&D professionals who understand the intersection of tech and consumer products while keeping an eye on the bottom line.
"While 3D visualization technologies have been used in the past within various fields, such as engineering and scientific agendas, many artistic and consumer product industries, such as fashion design and jewelry design, are beginning to take advantage of 3D printing systems," Gunduz said.
Companies will need people who can find the best way to utilize 3D printing for consumer products at the lowest cost possible.
"The ability to visualize a line of fashion accessories or jewelry designs before committing to working with expensive materials affords an advantage for companies to reduce costs in development cycles," Gunduz said.
4. Biological and scientific modeling
3D printing is not limited to consumer products. From prosthetics to human tissue, 3D printing promotes medical advancement and saves lives. It can also create drones, defense equipment and maybe even space food.
As such, the 3D printing industry will need more engineers, designers and modelers who have a biomedical or scientific background in order to further innovate and produce highly advanced 3D-printed products.
"While all manner of designers will be able to print the things they design, there will be a high end to the market — particularly in medical, aerospace, military and other high-precision or mission-critical applications — for those that better understand the printing technologies and how to design for their strengths and limitations," English said.
5. Architecture/construction modeling
3D printing will disrupt businesses, particularly those that rely heavily on blueprinting or prototyping. For the construction industry, this paradigm shift will boost the need for 3D modelers that may replace current 2D construction planning solutions.
"In the architecture, engineering and construction industries, 3D printing will redefine the production of construction documents," said Lira Luis, chief collaboration architect at Atelier Lira Luis LLC, a Chicago-based architecture and design firm.
Instead of 2D CAD modeling on paper, 3D printers can produce true-to-life models to better represent what structures will look like.
"As the 3D printing process becomes more streamlined, it could potentially eliminate the need for construction documents and move directly to printing full-scale mock-ups prior to construction of structures," Luis said.
What good are these jobs if no one has the qualifications to fill them? To help fill the skills gap, schools are developing (and some have already launched) 3D printing programs at all grade levels. This will open up jobs for educators who can teach the technical and business aspects of 3D printing.
"From an educational perspective, many K-12 schools are looking to 3D printing as a point of exposure for students within the arts as well as scientific areas of study," said Gunduz. Colleges and universities are also launching 3D printing courses and certificate programs, such as NYU-SCPS' Certificate in 3D Printing Rapid Prototyping.
Teachers will need to have a background in the 3D printing industry. They will also need specific skill sets to teach specialized courses and stay current on the latest trends.
"For educators, having an understanding of 3D modeling and 3D printing techniques will be invaluable, as the culture of fab labs is starting to gain support as an important aspect of education. Teachers with 3D modeling and fabrication experience have a range of opportunities open to them within educational programs looking to incorporate this new technology," Gunduz said.
7. Lawyers and legal professionals
3D printing is not confined to the tech world. As a creative field, the 3D printing industry is wide open to legal issues, prompting a need for more lawyers and legal professionals who specialize in intellectual property (IP) rights.
"As 3D printing technologies advance and become more widely accessible, it will be easier for infringers to create, market and sell products that infringe patents, copyrights and valuable brands," said Julie Matthews, partner at Edwards Wildman, an Am Law 100 firm with offices in the U.S., the U.K. and Asia. "As 3D printing technologies advance, new business models will emerge in which consumer products and their component parts can be copied, modified, juxtaposed with others, and produced almost anywhere."
As a result, there will be an increased need for IP enforcement actions and lawsuits, as well as expanded services to monitor for infringements, she said.
Growth areas include IP ownership, scope of rights, licensing, fair use, international rights and other forms of IP protection.
8. Business opportunities
Thinking of starting a business? 3D printing offers opportunities for innovation — not only in creating products, but also for entrepreneurship. 3D printing spans all types of technical and design roles, many of which make great business ideas to help others with their 3D printing needs.
"As 3D printing technologies advance and become readily accessible to home users, undoubtedly, this will lead to new business opportunities for individuals and companies offering on-site and remote 3D printing services, new product and industrial designers, and computer-aided design specialists," said Matthews.
With the best 3D printers costing anywhere from $1,999 to $3,500, anyone with 3D printing knowledge can start his or her own 3D printing business, whether on-site, via a website or through an e-commerce marketplace.
9. 3D-Printing-as-a-Service franchises
Not sure if starting from the ground up is for you? 3D printing may be the next hot franchise. According to Forbes.com, UPS recently launched a pilot program testing 3D-Printing-as-a-Service franchises at two of their retail stores in order to make 3D printing mainstream.
One of these UPS stores is located in the San Diego area and is owned by Burke Jones, whose 3D printing waitlist spans three pages of customers ordering robotic arms, custom figurines and vintage parts — just a few examples of the wide range of products offered, according to the Forbes article.
If successful, this and similar 3D-Printing-as-a-Service vendors can bring 3D printing to the masses by providing franchises to local businesses and entrepreneurs. Instead of commissioning a 3D printing company to create products — which is typically done online — 3D-Printing-as-a-Service franchises can provide personalized, in-person 3D printing services to local customers.
10. Operations and administrative positions
3D printing companies don't run on engineers and technical people alone. As the 3D printing industry grows, new and established 3D printing companies will need people to keep the business running smoothly and on the right trajectory. This includes operations and administrative staff, analysts, finance and sales professionals, and retail employees, among others.
"The businesses that will spring up with new business models centered on 3D printing will also have a need for more common jobs that other businesses need, like marketing, clerical, shipping, etc.," English said.
These jobs will open up in all types of 3D printing companies, including vendors, manufacturers and retail stores.
Originally published on BusinessNewsDaily.