Additive Manufacturing and 3D printing have ever-growing roles everywhere from product design and prototyping to one-of's and mass production, which means that more and more jobs will require AM/3D savvy and skills. If you are aspiring to add Additive Manufacturing and 3D printing expertise -- for immediate or long-term job and career growth -- you’ve got lots of options. Here's a look at the wide range of offerings, including a sense of the time and costs.
(Note, this article is looking primarily at learning -- for hands-on access to 3D printers, try your local makerspace, library, or printing/manufacturing lab at a local educational institution.)
Identifying Your Goals And Other Criteria
In order to choose your first (or next) step in your additive manufacturing journey, you need to decide what you're looking for. Here's some criteria to get you started searching and choosing:
- What's your goal? E.g., "learn more for my current or next job"? "Acquire recognized credential(s), such as 'digital badge,' certificate, or degree"? "Master specific skills, learn specific topics"?
- What's your focus? Creating/designing for additive manufacturing? Operating and maintaining 3D printers? 3D printing for prototyping and design, or for manufacturing?
- Do you have an industry focus, such as AM for biomedical, aero/auto/astro, construction, etc.?
- What's your existing level of knowledge, e.g., none, "I've read about it," "I've seen some printers and objects," some familiarity with CAD (computer-aided design) software.
- What's your time frame (for starting and finishing)? During the next six-to-twelve months? Over the next several years?
- How much time do you have available (say, per week) for study, including online and hands-on practice? An hour a day? Evenings and weekends? Half-time? Full-time?
- What's your budget? Free-only? Up to a few hundred dollars? $1,000-and-up?
Suggestion: Start Small – and Inexpensive
If you aren't at least somewhat familiar with 3D printing concepts and terminology, consider starting by reading an overview or two, like the Toronto Public Library's free 60-minute online course Introduction to 3D Printing at TPL, which includes hands-on instruction with Cura, the software used to prepare your 3D object file for printing on a 3D printer."
If you prefer to start by reading, consider this free short guide, Beginner Steps To Start Designing 3D Models.
Depending on what you plan to do, that might be enough. If you have larger goals -- or don't feel you've gotten enough information yet -- there are online courses and tutorials (and some in-person), many at modest or no cost. Some are for beginners, others will assume some knowledge or experience in 3D printing or with the design tools -- be sure to check listing information.
Online Courses And Tutorials, Including Many Offering Certificates And "Digital Badges"
There's a vast number and range of 3D printing and AM courses and tutorials online and in-person.
Other places to look (start with online searching -- but consider phoning) include local libraries, makerspaces, Adult Education, community colleges, and possibly also from local colleges and universities. (If you are having trouble finding them, you might ask the reference librarian at your local library.) If there are computer stores near you (or whoever else is now selling 3D printers), see if they offer any education.
These offerings range from one-hour on-line presentations or lectures through full-year programs. Many are available during evenings or on-demand, to accommodate your work schedule -- and range from free to several thousand dollars.
Many of these courses offer a digital credential such as a digital badge, certificate, or certification, showing that you have completed the course or training. You can list (or, where icons are provided), display these on your LinkedIn profile or other online resume/"about me" listings. (See "Digital Badges Will Help People Looking to Work in Manufacturing Acquire New Skills.")
And don't forget to explore videos, documents, courses and other resources provided by the companies that make 3D printers.
Stratasys, for example, including Stratasys subsidiaries GrabCAD (providing software, and community resources) and MakerBot (which makes desktop 3D printers intended for designers, schools and students, and enthusiasts), offers a variety of online tutorials, meet-ups (new and recorded), and community postings, such as
- MakerBot's 3D Printing Certification Programs for students and for educators
- GrabCAD tutorials, and on demand webinars (such as Talking Shop with Today's AM Teachers (Shop EDU Webinar).
Semester Course And Degree Options: More Time, More Money, More Value
Colleges are another good place to increase your 3D printing and additive manufacturing savvy -- ideal for moving your career to the next level. These courses and programs are where you can learn everything from basics through next-level topics, like "Advanced Strength of Materials," "Design for Manufacturability and Assembly," and "Physical Properties of Solids," not to mention related skills and knowledge on manufacturing project management, rules and regulations, business and economic principles, and more.
College offerings include semester-sized opportunities - for example, MIT XPro's online Additive Manufacturing for Innovative Design and Production "on the fundamentals, applications, and business implications of 3D printing for design and manufacturing," -- 12 weeks (5-7 hours/week), $1,980, and MIT Professional Education's online Smart Manufacturing: Moving From Static to Dynamic Manufacturing Operations -- 10 weeks (4-6 hours/week), $2,800.
There are also full-time, year-or-more college degree programs, such as Penn State's online Master of Engineering in Additive Manufacturing and Design program.
You'll want to confirm any academic prerequisites and other requirements, of course. For example, MIT XPro's Additive Manufacturing course listing says "Knowledge of pre-college math and physics is recommended," along with a clear statement of technical requirements such as its use of Autodesk Fusion 360 you'll need in order to be a participant.
Here's a few more examples of 3D printing and Additive Manufacturing learning courses and programs (in alphabetical order by organization):
- Cuyahoga Community College offers a Certificate of Proficiency program in 3D Digital Design & Additive Manufacturing Technology
- Purdue University and The Barnes Global Advisors (TBGA) offer two Additive Manufacturing (AM) Certificate Programs that "give working professionals and students an opportunity to stay current with the rapidly growing AM technologies and 3D printing."
- SME (a non-profit for manufacturers) offers Additive Manufacturing Certification: Master the Principles of Additive Manufacturing, at the Fundamentals or Technician level ((Pricing ranges from $75 for college student, online exam, through $279 for non-SME member, paper & pencil exam)
- St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud, Minn. offers a 14-week course (Note, they use Stratasys 3D printers.)
- UC San Diego Extension' Additive Manufacturing Certificate "is designed for professionals, engineering graduates or those seeking to enter the field of AM – 3D printing."
- University of Cincinnati offers a Masters of Engineering in Additive Manufacturing Degree.
And this only scratches the surface of what's out there. One or more will be a match for your target career growth… and you may discover others that inspire you to new goals.