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Skills needed for an environmentally sustainable AM industry

As additive manufacturing technology has developed rapidly over the last decades, it has shown great potential for environmental sustainability. The benefits offered through reduced material waste, supply chain innovations and the use of recycled plastics and metals in materials can all position AM as a sustainable production solution for companies. In these times, where large companies are increasingly under societal and governmental pressure to reduce their carbon footprint, sustainability in AM is a great opportunity. It could even support the acceleration of the AM industry as a whole.

But what does the AM industry need to become increasingly sustainable?

From an HR perspective, the implementation and transition to more environmentally sustainable methods often follows a top-down approach. Firstly, the senior management sets out a strategy to be implemented throughout the organization. Secondly, the organization must train and motivate existing employees to implement the strategy throughout the different layers of the business. Thirdly, the organization must attract and hire talented professionals with specific knowledge and experience on sustainability.

This perspective raises three questions and demands for an organization:

  • What type of leadership do we need?
  • What type of skills do we need in the organization?
  • What type of talent should we hire in addition to training the existing team?

A dire need for leadership

Building sustainability into manufacturing systems and product lifecycles starts with senior management across the AM value chain ‘creating or stepping into’ the circular economy. A circular economy is a restorative and regenerative system in which resource input and output are minimized by way of design.

While sustainability is on senior management’s agenda in many organizations already, like with industry giants HP and EOS, there is still very little being done to actually drive these initiatives. Part of this problem lies with the question of “who is responsible?”. Most organizations do not have a Head of Sustainability, or an internal champion to take ownership. This is a very important step in the long-term transition to an environmentally sustainable sector.

Besides defining clear roles and responsibilities, leaders need both communication and change management skills to successfully shift the organization to environmental sustainability.

Alexander Daniels global sustainable industry
Marie Langer at the EOS Press Conference at Formnext 2019 talking about sustainability in AM

Soft skills needed

The hard skills required by the employees depend on the type of organization: a material developer will likely need to upskill employees in biomaterials, and OEM’s will need to upskill their engineers in sustainable design.

The most important skills that employees should be trained in to be successful in transitioning into a more sustainable approach are soft skills. It is a cultural and a mindset change that needs to be encouraged and guided by management. Below are some of the critical soft skills employees must be trained in:

  • Creativity: Finding new applications for AM as well as new and more sustainable methods requires creativity. Those in leadership positions need to foster creativity with their employees and create a culture of collaboration and trust across all levels of the operation.
  • Complex problem solving: AM technology and its usability in different sectors, businesses and manufacturing processes, is complex and there are often many variables to consider in order to define certain solutions. The complexity of the industry and the value chain only increases with the transition to sustainable methods.
  • Stakeholder management: A new sustainability approach will impact organization stakeholders. Employees at most levels will have some degree of contact with stakeholders and must thus learn how to manage those relationships.

The need for specialized talent

Depending on the specific way in which a company will move to become more environmentally sustainable, different types of specialists will be sought-after.

To implement new environmentally sustainable methods in the additive manufacturing processes, organizations need R&D, design and application professionals. Developing a new type of sustainable material could require bioengineers, biochemists, and biophysicists.

There will also likely be a need for mechanical engineers and machine design specialists that can further develop the design and capabilities of the machines to minimize waste, consume less energy and limit process emissions.

It seems clear that AM has the opportunity to lead the global manufacturing market as a sustainable production technology. At Alexander Daniels Global, we want to help the AM industry exploit this opportunity – our contribution is talent. Feel free to contact us for an open talk about your hiring needs.

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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