The United States is a world leader in additive manufacturing. A majority of the top AM companies are based in the US, but a shrinking workforce of skilled laborers has led to uncertainty about the expansion of AM. Throughout the US, educational environments are shifting and the government has renewed funding for advanced manufacturing to ensure that the 3D printing industry achieves its potential and benefits the US economy.
American Manufacturing: 3D Print-Driven Innovation
US manufacturers will be increasingly forced to weigh 3D printing against traditional manufacturing techniques as the country faces two simultaneous shifts in the available workforce. First, the United States has seen a steady decline of skilled laborers who are available or willing to work using traditional manufacturing methods. As Erick Wolf of Airwolf 3D said in a feature on 3D Printing Industry, to maintain the current output under these conditions, there must be a focus on “increas[ing] productivity without requiring an increase in human labor.” The solution is digitizing the technological advancement and an increased utilization of additive manufacturing technology.
Image Source: AET Labs
The second approaching change in the US workforce was described by Briana Yarbrough, Chief Marketing Officer and Content Developer at AET Labs, in the same series from 3D Printing Industry. She describes how the increasing emphasis on STEM and technological innovation in US education is ensuring that more students are prepared to maximize these emerging fields. The students from the digital native generation are equipped with an entirely new set of skills and will drive the move for many companies directly into Industry 4.0.
3D Printing is Already Benefitting US Economic Revitalization
Detroit was among the American cities most visibly affected by the recent worldwide economic crisis. The city (as well as the entire state of Michigan) is known as the heart of the American automotive industry. But recently there has been an indication that economic revitalization may be on the horizon for Detroit and areas affected similarly by the decline of traditional American manufacturing; Detroit was actually named the top city for CAD designers in the US in 2017 by the IT and engineering staffing agency Modis.
Image Source: Modis
The agency looked at wage and location data, cost of living for the location, and state-level investment in technology and discovered that CAD designers in the Detroit area have the advantage of both the highest average salary and the highest concentration of available jobs in the United States. Ford Motor Company’s new CEO Jim Hackett also announced his intention to focus on modernization, including implementing additive manufacturing technologies to redefine the American automotive industry. These are clear signals that the potential for 3D printing is aiding in the revitalization of previously weak economic areas in the US and providing a ray of hope.
The United States government also understands the importance of this technological advancement as a key method to bolster the expansion of 3D printing business in the US economy. Manufacturing USA is an industry- and government-led initiative for manufacturing innovation that has created America Makes, the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute as a national accelerator for innovation specifically within additive manufacturing. America Makes is located in Youngstown, Ohio, another post-industrial city that was heavily burdened by the economic crisis.
Image Source: America Makes
Recently, America Makes partnered with the organization 3D Veterans as well as GE’s Center for Additive Technology Advancement (CATA) and Robert Morris University to expand a 3D printing education program for veterans called the Additive Manufacturing Bootcamp. The program provides training and mentorship to American veterans to obtain the specialized skillset that 3D printing requires and spur innovation. The four-week program offers education in design tools, metal 3D printers, and hands-on projects at GE’s CATA facility. Such sponsorship by the US government further proves the significant American interest in expanding additive manufacturing and utilizing the industry as a gateway for new employment opportunities and economic growth.
It’s Only the Beginning
The US economy is already infused with the 3D printing industry, and the clear set of government-led initiatives and sturdy company footholds will ensure that additive manufacturing’s current stake in the US economy will grow only stronger as they define Industry 4.0 and the future of production.