Is Additive Manufacturing Becoming A Missed Opportunity For U.S. Innovation?

Manufacturers in the United States face a lot of hurdles toward lasting prosperity. While each industry and marketplace present their own unique and growing challenges, there are common obstacles that affect the sector.

A broadening skills gap, lack of capital for investment, and increased competition from overseas has affected manufacturers of all different types of goods, from aerospace engine components to mylar flat washers and shims. Some of these manufacturers have found solutions to these issues, including joint ventures with vocational training programs and special initiatives to attract more talent, but many issues remain persistent.

There’s one manufacturing approach that’s run into some particularly tough issues when it comes to growth. According to a study from the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), additive manufacturing has been hindered by a growing skills gap, lack of familiarity, and increased outsourcing. On the surface, these results may sound somewhat unexpected, as 3D printing has become an increasingly viable resource for many different types of companies and industries.

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Additive manufacturing is usually met with a lot of enthusiasm for all the potential it can offer in the design and production of various goods, but that may speak to part of the issue; additive manufacturing is still comparatively new. This contributes to the smaller talent pool for potential employees with skills and know-how dedicated to additive manufacturing equipment, techniques, and implementation.

As detailed in Design News “3 Reasons the U.S. Additive Manufacturing Skills Gap Is Growing” education is one of the primary issues preventing this technology from being better leveraged as a manufacturing resource. Even as graduates leave institutions with an understanding of how additive manufacturing works—and other specifics like current material availability and limitations—companies need professionals who can apply those specifics to design and production.

The article specifies that while engineering graduates are exposed to various aspects of additive manufacturing, there are very few individuals who have a comprehensive understanding of the technology in full, including the economics and viability of incorporating it into a business. As a result, there are very few potential candidates for manufacturers to employ when they want to implement additive manufacturing as part of their progress.

This is where increased capital investment could solve a lot of problems for additive manufacturing expansion through the sector and for individual manufacturing companies. Hiring savvy engineers and providing or connecting with extended educational resources could help take the technology to a more profitable, productive level.

As manufacturing companies continue to move offshore and this revolutionary technology remains underutilized, the U.S.’s ability to stay competitive may depend on whether companies and educational institutions really invest in unlocking the potential of advanced manufacturing technologies.