- 3D printing is a technology that creates a three-dimensional object using a computer-aided design (CAD).
- The 3D printing industry is rapidly growing thanks to its ability to create a wide range of versatile products in a fast, cost-effective way.
- For job seekers, the 3D printing industry offers some cool jobs on the cutting edge of the technology.
- This article is for professionals and entrepreneurs who want to work in the 3D printing industry.
President Barack Obama once said 3D printing has the "potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything." For that reason, the 3D printing industry was valued at $13.78 billion in 2020. And market research projections suggest it will continue its meteoric growth through 2028 – when it is expected to reach an estimated $59.65 billion.
As the 3D printing industry booms, what does it mean for job seekers? Here are 9 opportunities that will be created or get a boost from 3D printing.
What is 3D printing?
Rather than using ink and paper, a 3D printer uses materials like plastic, metal or ceramic to create a 3D model. By using computer-aided design (CAD) files as digital instructions to create an object, a 3D printer repeatedly covers a work surface with layers of material in precisely the right spots to create a structure from scratch.
While 3D printing can be used for large-scale structures, 3D printing is most useful in creating smaller, customized parts or prototype components for various uses – including automotive engineering or the medical industry. With the versatility of 3D printing, it's a field that's filled with opportunities. Let's take a look at some of the areas 3D printing is being used today.
3D printing jobs
1. 3D design
3D printing relies heavily on designers who can take a product idea and bring it 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 current 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, Gunduz explains.
"This gives them a significant advantage when looking for career opportunities within creative fields," Gunduz said.
Did you know? 3D printers can create replacement parts for the human body, among the many things that 3D printers make.
2. 3D CAD modeling
3D printing would not be possible without CAD experts who have the skills to convert product designs into digital blueprints that the 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. ProtoParadigm is 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.
Consequently, 3D CAD modeling jobs will require printing-specific modeling skills, such as feature size, geometrical constraints and knowledge of materials, English added.
3. Research and development
3D printing is all the buzz – and not just in the gadget world. Just as the 3D printing industry will require more product designers and CAD modelers, jobs will open up for forward-thinking research and development professionals who understand the intersection of tech and consumer products.
"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.
Tip: Is your business experimenting with 3D printing research and development? Consider these tax credits that are available to companies performing cutting-edge research.
4. Biological and scientific modeling
3D printing is not limited to consumer products; it creates many products that promote medical advancement and save lives. It can also create drone and defense equipment, and possibly even space food.
Accordingly, 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.
5. Architecture and construction modeling
3D printing will disrupt various industries, 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 printing 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," Gunduz said. 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," Gunduz said. "Teachers with 3D modeling and fabrication experience have a range of opportunities open to them within educational programs looking to incorporate this new technology."
7. Legal professionals
3D printing is not confined to the tech world. As a creative field, the 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, Matthews explained.
Growth areas include IP ownership, scope of rights, licensing, fair use and international rights.
8. Startup companies
Thinking of starting a new business? 3D printing offers opportunities for innovation – not only in creating products, but also for entrepreneurship. 3D printing spans across various technical and design roles, many of which make great business ideas to support companies' 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 onsite and remote 3D printing services, new product and industrial designers, and computer-aided design specialists," Matthews said.
With 3D printing costing between $1,999 and $3,500, anyone with 3D printing knowledge can start their business.
Tip: Consider a 3D-printing-as-a-service franchise for your new business venture.
9. Administrative roles
3D printing companies don't run on engineers and technicians alone. As the industry grows, new and established 3D printing companies will need employees to keep their business running smoothly. This includes operations and administrative staff, analysts, finance and sales professionals, and retail employees.
"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.
Business News Daily editorial staff contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.