A paper released by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Work of the Future department encourages industrial training in additive manufacturing. Major American news sources have picked up the story, which bodes well for the AM industry. The policy paper reviews AM technology and its future impacts on the workforce and the product lifecycle.
The report makes a series of recommendations that will if adopted, spur the AM industry to new heights:
- Invest in the full spectrum of basic AM research that can be applied to commercialization;
- Support small- and medium-sized enterprises to develop AM capacity and expertise;
- Support the development of high-quality, workforce-oriented training programs at all levels;
- Accelerate approaches to open innovation with AM as a fulcrum;
- Understand and proactively combat the prospective risks of intellectual property piracy, counterfeiting, and reverse engineering through secure and effective file-sharing standards; and
- Define through legislation the ownership of digital information and outline concretely the boundaries between consumer and manufacturer rights and entitlements for device repair.
These recommendations focus on initiatives that can be implemented in individual companies and by governments to foster market uptake of AM technologies. These recommendations, moreover, take on social significance because they ask businesses to retrain workforces for the coming AM age. Industry 4.0 is rapidly cresting the horizon, and many unions and employees remember tough times when automation displaced part of the workforce. A similar phenomenon may occur as AM becomes mainstream, and the report points to some similar move:
[…] more workers are leaving the manufacturing sector than ever before. Between 2015 and 2018, for example, the percentage of the total manufacturing workforce that left the industry increased each year annually from 25.6 percent (2015) to 32.5 percent (2018). In 2019, the last year for which complete data is available, 31.3 percent of the manufacturing workforce left the industry. While increased worker turnover generally characterizes most economic activity for this period, few sectors have had turnover of commensurate magnitude to the manufacturing sector.
The report thus highlights the need for cooperation between business, government, and labor. The present AM labor force is described in great detail:
Despite a growing body of professional training initiatives for AM, there is evidence that such initiatives may be insufficient to address the shortage of qualified professionals. A 2018 study cosponsored by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute concluded that there may be a total of 2.4 million unfilled manufacturing jobs in the United States between 2018 and 2035 and that the great majority of manufacturing executives (89 percent) perceive a talent shortage in U.S. manufacturing.
These statistics go to the authors’ recommendations. The AM space needs to garner widespread social, political and economic support.
The authors point to three case studies that are well known in the AM space: aerospace and defense, medical devices, and automotive vehicles. Each of these sectors boasts a stronger AM presence; the authors predict higher AM uptake in these sectors, which will serve to incite investment in other manufacturing applications.