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How automation is changing 3D printing jobs

The robots are coming. Not to steal our jobs, but to change them

A key to the factory of tomorrow is automation. Automation allows integrated manufacturing systems to function practically autonomously and will thus replace and change many jobs. So, with the factory of tomorrow, who will be the workers of tomorrow?

Within the additive manufacturing industry, the focus is increasingly shifting to industrialization and how the technology is becoming an integral part of the factory of tomorrow. With this focus comes increased automation and an upswing of integrated digital production lines. Over the past few years, we have seen how AM OEMs have developed and deployed integrated manufacturing solutions, one example of which is EOS’ Shared Modules, launched in late 2019.

This development sees less people needed on the shop floor to operate and manage the machines. For the general manufacturing sector, 64% of work has the potential to be automated, according to McKinsey. Additionally, additive manufacturing as a technology is already changing jobs: it is less labour intensive than traditional manufacturing, cuts out steps of the manufacturing process and reduces the need for warehousing and shipment. Alexander Daniels Global provides its take on how automation will change jobs in additive manufacturing, and what skills are required for the future workforce.

Jobs that could become redundant

The jobs that are more likely to become redundant within additive manufacturing are lower-level shop-floor jobs. Machine Operators will likely become redundant as automation and algorithms will be able to monitor inbuilt processes and make changes accordingly. Integrated solutions using robots to move parts to other machines automates the whole build processes including post processing.

In the future, businesses will likely need fewer, though highly skilled, service engineers as machines will be able to predict their own maintenance needs, order the right spare parts and have them fitted before failures happen. Intelligent machines will be able to understand themselves better.

Jobs that will see a demand surge

The factory of the future will be driven by data and software. For integrated digital factories with additive manufacturing as a component, there will be an increased need for machine learning specialists and software architects. Moreover, like today, we will continue to see a need for application professionals who can continue to push the boundaries of where and how AM can be used. We will likely continue to see a need for design professionals that through creativity and deep knowledge can rethink where additive manufactured parts can be used.

Skills of the ‘worker of tomorrow’

Adapting to the factory of tomorrow requires a different skill set than before. Below are some of the key soft and hard skills essential to the worker of tomorrow.

Automation Jobs 3D Printing

Hard Skills

Related to the jobs that will likely see a surge in demand, there will be a need for people with hard skills like applications knowledge, design, software, AI, machine learning, hardware, and data science.

Businesses will increasingly need professionals with a T-shaped skill set, which involves having a broad knowledge of manufacturing and processes and having deep knowledge in one specific area as a subject matter expert. As an example, someone having deep knowledge of materials, paired with a broad knowledge of machines, processes and software, will understand how to build and develop an application that requires specific material properties. As automation takes over some tasks, having subject matter experts becomes increasingly important.

Automation Jobs 3D Printing
Example of a T-shaped skill set

Soft Skills

Social and emotional skills: The ‘workers of tomorrow’ will spend more time on activities the machines have yet to learn. This includes employee management, applying expertise and communicating with others. These tasks require more social and emotional skills.

Critical thinking for decision making: Decision making will likely remain a human task and critical thinking and logic reasoning are critical skills for this. Critical thinking is key to not just ride the wave of the traditional ways of using the technology, but to break out of the cycle and reinvent and experiment with new techniques, design, technologies, materials, etc.

Creativity: While AI is incredibly smart, it will likely never match human creativity. True creativity cannot come from a machine that solely takes input, computes it and delivers an output. Creativity, originality and initiative will remain valuable skills. Finding new applications for the AM technology, printing new parts using AM and inventing new materials for printing, all require creativity.

Complex problem solving: Complex problem solving and mental elasticity are also skills that will be increasingly sought after, as automation changes the nature of AM jobs. The more integrated the manufacturing process, the more options, issues and complexities. Having the right people, who can solve a problem or think of an innovative solution considering an increasing number of variables, will be crucial.

Active learner: New technologies and new applications spur every day, and the workforce needs to keep up. If they do not keep up, and if they do not learn proactively, they will become obsolete.

How can businesses and individuals prepare?

Preparing for the factory of the future and increased automation requires businesses to both retool their processes and revaluate their talent strategies. Businesses need to carefully consider where new talent may be required, and which employees can be redeployed to other jobs. Hiring new talent becomes more difficult as the skills you hire for become redundant quicker as the technology advances. Therefore, an important skill businesses must look out for is a learning mindset; businesses need people who can adapt and change with the technology.

Redeploying individuals requires job retraining. Employers can provide on-the-job training and opportunities for their workers to upskill and retrain to ensure they possess the right skill mix needed for the factory of tomorrow.

Individuals will also need to prepare for a rapidly evolving technology and work environment. Being an active learner and acquiring new in-demand skills will be critical for their own relevance to the industry. There will be a demand for human labour, but workers must be prepared to rethink and retrain their traditional notions of work.

The robots are coming. Not to steal our jobs, but to change them.

This article was published in partnership with Alexander Daniels Global.

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Signe Damgaard

Signe Damgaard Jensen is a marketing professional specialized in Digital Marketing and Content Creation. Signe drives brand awareness for industry 4.0 companies through integrated marketing campaigns. Signe currently works for Alexander Daniels Global as the Marketing Manager.

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