Additive manufacturing irrevocably changed a lot of industries. It is impossible to imagine the future of automotive, aerospace or even medicine without rapid prototyping. Engineers and lab assistants are learning this new technology to become better-paid professionals. But essentially, to keep up-to-date with the fast-changing environment. What is the most effective way to learn advanced 3D printing technology?
According to the PwC report “Beyond prototyping: accelerating the business case for 3D printing”, rapid prototyping is not only the key element of Industry 4.0 revolution but also “a practicable alternative for both product development and conventional manufacturing”. The whole 3DP market will achieve 22.6 billion euro by 2030, and the largest potential lies in aerospace (23%), medical technology (23%) and automotive (15%). Just those three industries alone cover over 60 percent of all additive manufacturing worldwide. 
Engineer of the future
While companies are heading into 3D printing, engineers need to follow, or even better, overtake it. The need for trained engineers who can operate 3D printers, and even more important, excel in designing for rapid prototyping, is huge. “While 18% of manufacturing companies make use of 3DP at present, this is expected to increase to one-third of all businesses over the next five years.” states the PwC report. That means a lot of learning many technicians.
It is especially a well-known topic in Germany, the biggest 3DP market in Europe. Benjamin Henkel, the owner of SLS 3D knows it the best. As an engineer himself, for years he was selling 3D printers to the professionals, but now he is mostly dedicated to workshops and knowledge services.
People came to our showroom in Hannover to see some advanced 3D printers live, get more info, especially in the German language – Benjamin Henkel recalls. After acquiring the printer they also want to know how to use the machine the most professional way. It is like buying a pro camera vs. a cheap one. You can shoot your photos right away, but with an in-depth training you will become a professional photographer a way sooner, than just shooting pictures – he adds.
Advanced 3D printing workshops are still something new. While students from technological universities are taking classes on additive manufacturing, and their labs are getting more professional, equipped with the best 3D printers, for engineers who already had their master degrees it is not so easy to learn. Where and when should they go? There are so many question marks.
- Which additive manufacturing technology to learn?
- How much time do I need to become a pro?
- What will be the impact on my job and ongoing projects?
But in the end, an engineer skilled with 3D printing knowledge will get a better-paid job. According to PayScale.com, 3D skilled engineers could get approximately 58k dollars per year. The best paid are Mechanical Engineers (65k USD), Manufacturing Engineers (71k USD) and Application Engineers (62k USD). 
Find the best technology for your industry
Engineers who are participating in Benjamin’s workshops have different background and skill level. Some used to print with popular FDM or SLA 3D printers and would like to upgrade for more advanced technology, but for many, this is the first time ever to be involved in the rapid prototyping process. Their technical education helps a lot. Benjamin Henkel is specializing in SLS 3D printing, as it is mostly used by companies he is working with. As stated in “The 3D Printing Handbook” by 3D Hubs, “SLS is best suited for producing strong functional parts with complex geometries” . This is why companies from automotive or other high-tech industries, which prototype a lot, need engineers with SLS knowledge. Especially after SLS patent expired in 2014 and more 3D printers producers joined the market with reasonably priced machines.
A lot of my clients acquired or are planning to buy a desktop SLS 3D printer because instead of 200k euro now they have to pay 7 or 12k for a device which is sometimes even more accurate and suits their needs much better – adds Benjamin Henkel. – For my workshops, I am using Sinterit Lisa and Lisa Pro. These reliable, simple machines are ideal for starting an SLS printing adventure. Both Lisas make it easy to show the advantage of this technology when it comes to complex applications – he adds.
To train or not to train?
As desktop SLS 3D printers seem to be easy to operate, especially in comparison to the big industrial machines, it is still a good idea to get professional training. Even while those printers don’t need a lot of powder to start printing, the fewer mistakes you made, the more money you will save. Isn’t it why you have bought the printer in the first place? Some R&D companies like Sybet (mentioned in this article) are reducing prototyping costs by hundreds of percents thanks to this technology. But operating it is just one case. Designing for it is another, and sometimes more important one. Trial and error method is not efficient.
When you employ an engineer that earns hundreds of euros per hour you wouldn’t like him or her to spend other hundreds of hours on self-training the new technology – points out Benjamin.
He and his team members show how to design for SLS, use different materials and get the most of the printouts by the well-done postproduction. Besides the standard version of the workshops, there are extended options for those who would like to level up. It is always personalized and can be performed at the client’s office, anywhere in Germany.
Although Benjamin is working on Lisas for several years, for a lot of clients, the desktop SLS devices are still a novelty.
Sometimes, when we are visiting big companies or universities, we find out that they have bought a printer a long time ago, but haven’t started it yet, because for safety departments it is so new and unknown technology, that they are afraid to make a decision to let it work. This is why they need somebody to show how easy and safe it is in using or handling the powder. This is our job. – summarizes Benjamin.
He believes that additive manufacturing is becoming more professional and affordable at the same time. For engineers, it is essential to be up to date with the most advanced options on the market, and for the decision makers, the real value of training the employees should never drop out of sight. In the end, a trained engineer could earn more, and the company owner will spend less overall. https://www.pwc.nl/nl/assets/documents/pwc-whitepaper-3d-printing-2018.pdf  https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Skill=3D_Printing/Salary  Redwood B., Schöffer F., Garret B. (2017) The 3D Printing Handbook. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: 3D Hubs B.V