Navigating the 3D printing career path is combination of desire, experience, and skill choices. Don’t panic just yet – you’re probably way ahead of the curve already just by having an interest in 3D printing. Since the industry is constantly evolving, so are the choices. Let’s sit back and take a snapshot of what’s out there and how you can get started.
Who you are and who you can be
Let’s divide up our 3D printing careers by the following categories: Technical, Non-Technical, Entrepreneur, and Techno-Artisan. There’s plenty of overlap between each of them so don’t feel like one is isolated from the other. Since you decided to keep reading, we’ll show you how far the rabbit hole will go regardless of which circle you might reside.
Engineers, technicians, architects, or scientists have the easiest transition into the 3D printing career matrix. You most likely have dealt with SolidWorks, Rhino3D, AutoCAD, or countless other iterations for 3D modeling and design. Chances are you may even have experience with CNC programming for laser cutters, lathes, or mills. As an architect, you may have used programs that include Revit or Sketchup to create models of buildings and houses, if not made them by hand using raw materials. You’re not afraid to work with a 3D printer, build one yourself, or prototype an object from scratch. You have plenty of choices in industries that include defense, automotive, materials science, agriculture, medical, aerospace, architecture, and software development. Regardless, new opportunities are organically growing each day.
I want to design stuff
If you just want to design objects for 3D printing, CAD and 3D modeling are the bedrock for any freelance, small business, or company role. Whether it’s engineering a new coupling or creating a concept car for industrial design, you’ve got the technical background to get started. Performing design work culminates all of your technical talent, prototyping experience, and solid modeling skills over a broad range of industries. Whether working for an aerospace company or a boutique design firm, your “CAD-foo” will be in heavy demand.
I just like to print stuff
You just love watching the whirl of a 3D printer in action. We get it - it’s exciting (if not hypnotizing). If you love 3D printing services, you can open your own 3D printing store, service your own gear, and work with customers on getting their objects printed according to their design specifications. In this case they would either provide you with a digital file of your model or you would provide the additional service of designing it for them. Whether you’re starting a service franchise or working for a worldwide on-demand 3D printing company, you’ll have the experience and fundamentals down to pave your own destiny. Keep in mind you’ll still need some CAD-Foo skills as well as an understanding of 3D printing software for preparing and analyzing digital files.
Are you a former or current machinist? You’ll have the background for both additive manufacturing and subtractive manufacturing under one roof. You’ll provide in-house rapid prototyping as well as production level metalworking for clients.
Interested in technical support? As a techie who loves 3D printing and problem solving, there’s a growing need to troubleshoot and help customers understand their new toy. On-site support for 3D printers or phone based support service might be your thing.
I’m an R&D geek
You want to get into the nuts and bolts of 3D printing, designing units on behalf of a major company or simply to kick start your own business. Here you have the pleasure of building, experimenting, designing, and engineering your own rig. R&D gets into the science of 3D printing, researching new methods and technologies that improve 3D printer performance.
Don’t forget to stay ahead of the latest news in bio-printing; the ability to 3D print an organ, bacteria, cell, or other organic material for medical research or donors. While still a unique role, bioengineers and medical scientists with 3D printing experience will certainly be in high demand.
If you’re a programmer, you may want to develop the next best slicing software or CAD modeling tool. You might develop a suite of tools designed to maximize or prepare digital files for 3D printing or perhaps create utilities that streamline the design process for a 3D printed object.
In the industrial engineering realm, the science of assembly line manufacturing using 3D printers will also be required to maximize production speed, efficiency, quality control, and automation. Your research will culminate into the future of mass production. Ready for the future of construction engineering? Checkout this Chinese firm 3D printing 10 houses in less than 24 hours.
While you don’t have a technical background or education, you’re curious – and rightfully so. You don’t have to be Mr. Wizard to understand 3D printing fundamentals. Just by simply owning a desktop 3D printer helps you learn the basics. One of the best ways to learn is not only to operate a unit, but build one yourself from a kit. Companies such as Ultimaker and Printrbot offer user-friendly procedures for building your own. While there may be some thinking and troubleshooting involved, you’ll be grateful for the learning experience down the road. With basic desktop printer prices down to nearly $200, learning 3D printing at home will equate to on-the-job training.
There are an array of non-technical roles to choose from thanks to 3D printing. If you have a legal background then intellectual property, copyrights, and patent law are right up your alley. Sooner or later you’ll be busy trying to protect the latest fabricated gadget or 3D printer from being duplicated by users worldwide.
Love to sell technology? The transition would be easy for new or former tech salesman to start selling 3D printers to businesses, schools, and other organizations. In the retail segment, sales executives are necessary for in-person store consultations. In addition, your sales skills will easily translate to areas in marketing where branding, promotions, tradeshows, and strategy are required to penetrate new territories, gain mindshare, and deal with the competition. As a marketing or sales executive, getting up to speed with 3D printing won’t be difficult after some trial-by-fire.
Artists will also have plenty of opportunity with 3D printing – concept drawings, graphic design, marketing materials, user guide artwork, and packaging design are sure to be required to grab a customer’s attention or help an engineer easily understand the diagrams of their newly purchased $350,000 laser sintering system.
For teachers, training users in 3D printing will have benefits for students and employees alike. Teachers who grasp 3D printing are a necessity for training the makers of the future. Whether you’re in a high school classroom or corporate training facility, 3D printing trainers will be a breath of fresh air for anyone wants to learn how to prototype or mass produce.
For the wordsmith, writing user guides, books, procedures, marketing material, websites and blogs, legal information, and countless other pieces of 3D printing content will yield an array of freelance or full-time positions. Writers will be key in communicating complex ideas into simple concepts so that any audience, from consumer to potential investor, will understand the world of 3D printing.
You want to be a founder, CEO, or captain of industry. We get it! The kingdom is yours for the taking. Do you want to create a hot tablet app for remote 3D printing and control? Are you the guy who figures out how to make 3D printing materials made of wood, carbon fiber, or simulated brass? Perhaps you’ve come up with a way to create affordable 3D printed prosthetics with style? Under the entrepreneurial umbrella, you have limitless directions for starting a company. With a broad range of product and service ideas to choose from, any industry can benefit from the effects of 3D printing. To gauge the scope of possibility, stay on top of the latest industry news.
In software, everything from android apps to 3D scanning software are being developed as you read this. Online services such as collaborative design websites, print-on-demand tools, model databases, and a variety of web-based applications allow users from across the globe to enhance their 3D printing efforts.
In 3D printer hardware, new tools and modifications are being engineered to help increase 3D printing performance and efficiency. From Arduino-based controller boards to new hot-ends for FDM printers, hardware entrepreneurs are paving the way.
For consumer goods, the power of 3D printing for customizable products is vast and intoxicating. Examples include custom 3D printed earphones, role playing games, toys, 3D scanning of pets, jewelry, furniture, and electronics components.
You are the artist, animator, sculptor, and designer that uses 3D printing for a variety of expressions. Many artists are cross training - blending technique with technology to create styles and designs that transcend traditional methods. In some cases, the act of a 3D printer creating art is just as amazing as the art itself. A blend of art, engineering, and innovation, has resulted in a new patent-pending, anti-gravity, object modeling 3D printer. We present to you the MX3D robot, capable of creating 3D printed structures in mid-air.
For the digital animator and sculptor, creating cartoon characters, monsters, sci-fi ships, and more now entail 3D printing their digital design into a resin or plastic model. Various figures, statues, structures, objects, and parts help creators understand their work or prepare their designs for mass market production. From canvas to computer screen to 3D printed model, digital effects artists and animators turn designs into reality.
Architects also make use of 3D printing for concept buildings, representations, topology, and landscapes. 3D printing helps reduce the cost of traditional modeling while adding more detail and freedom of expression to their representations than ever before. In addition, an architect may now present clients with 3D printed versions scaled to larger sizes that help highlight physical features in more depth and detail.
Organic career choices
3D printing career paths allow different professionals across the board to embrace technology and promote their interests. Countless products, designs, and engineered devices are becoming a reality, spawned by the imagination of the engineer, scientist, artist, or entrepreneur. The residual growth for opportunities span multiple directions and gives opportunity for those who haven’t yet touched a 3D printer. This industry is organically creating new work roles, new visions, and better futures for all.