According to a report by Markets and Markets, the 3D printing industry is expected to be worth $32.78 billion by 2023, with a compound annual growth rate of 25.76 percent. With that growth comes money and demand for talented people to control these sophisticated devices.
So, as the 3D printing industry booms, what does it mean for job seekers? From designers to nontechnical positions, here are nine jobs that will be created or see a boost from 3D printing. [Read related article: What is 3D Printing?]
1. 3D design and CAD modeling
3D printing relies heavily on designers who can take a product idea and translate it into something that can be brought to life. The 3D printing industry 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 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.
3D printing would not be possible without computer-aided design 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 performs research and development on 3D printing hardware and new printing materials.
Although 3D CAD professionals are 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.
2. Research and development (R&D)
Wearable tech is all the buzz — and not just in the gadget world. From 3D-printed shoes to clothes and accessories, 3D printing is the fashion of the future. 3D printing 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.
3. Biological and scientific modeling
As such, the 3D printing industry will need more engineers, designers and modelers who have a biomedical or scientific background 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.
4. 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 [the] construction of structures," Luis said.
What good are these jobs if no one has the qualifications to fill them? To 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 through 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 skillsets to teach specialized courses and stay current on the latest trends. [Read related article: 3D Printing: Latest Headlines]
"For educators, understanding 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.
6. Designers for law firms and legal professionals
3D printing has its uses in the courtroom, with attorneys finding practical applications in liability cases. Attorney James Goodnow of Fennemore Craig, says they hire 3D designers to use 3D printers to recreate and redesign faulty products.
"In product liability cases, one of the main questions is whether a product was properly designed. 3D printing makes it much easier to sell your idea. It allows us to quickly prototype and visualize evidence – or create demonstrative exhibits," Goodnow said.
"For example, we used the MakerBot 3D printer with our experts on a product liability case where the design of certain mechanical parts was at issue. With the help of the experts and 3D designers we retained prior to filing suit, we [were] able to show the decision-makers on the other side – the insurance adjustor and the attorney – how the parts could have been made in a better way."
The aerospace industry is turning to companies that can manufacture parts cheaply and efficiently, all while meeting strict codes and standards. 3D printing makes producing complicated parts for modern aircraft much easier, according to 3D printing company Fisher Unitech.
"For example, GE Aviation found it could create a 3D-printed fuel nozzle that was five times more durable and 25 percent lighter than the fuel nozzles created with traditional manufacturing. While the old fuel nozzle required 20 separate parts to be welded together, the 3D printed version could be produced as a complete part in one print job," according to the company.
8. On-staff experts
Companies of any variety can benefit from having a 3D printer and a staff member who is knowledgeable about it. Nick Stratton of Gillware Data Recovery says his company uses a 3D printer to make custom fixtures for storage media. The company can design a part to meet their exact specifications.
"Truly being able to make the right part for the right job allows you to not settle for 'good enough,' like with off-the-shelf options," Stratton said.
"While not every company could fill a specific 3D-printing-based role, there is the opportunity for companies to have a person on staff that also handles the 3D printer, and that is very exciting to me versus a few companies that have specific 3D printing roles."
"Imagine marketing departments with 3D printing specialists on staff that can [produce] CAD designs on the fly, creating both digital and physical objects to use in marketing pieces."
9. 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 at all types of 3D printing companies, including vendors, manufacturers and retail stores.