What, who and how? Developing a 3D Printing/Additive Manufacturing-capable workforce for UK industry
Even if only a small fraction of the predictions for the growth of Additive Manufacturing come to fruition, there is the potential for substantial value capture for the UK. However, several major barriers are preventing the wider adoption of these technologies, and key amongst these is skills for AM:
1. What are the skills required? Firstly, core AM skills such as the basic principles of layer-based approaches to manufacturing, design for AM, and matching of different AM processes to specific applications provide the foundations. Secondly, 'complementary' skills such as powder handling, material recycling, and integration of AM within existing manufacturing systems are required. Thirdly, as AM technologies fit within a broad set of 'digital manufacturing' technologies, a fully AM-capable workforce needs also to be digitally literate. Finally, AM skills need to encompass the understanding of how the adoption of these technologies can be incremental (i.e. 'just another tool' in the production technologies toolbox) as well as radical/disruptive (i.e. they offer the potential to transform business models, supply chains and industries).
2. Who needs to have them? Given the speed of adoption of AM technologies in many sectors, a significant proportion of those who need AM skills are already in the workforce. Knowledge of AM needs to be developed to an appropriate level in all areas of activity, across all firms. Effort also needs to be made to ensure that the future UK workforce is also equipped with the relevant skills via embedding of AM knowledge within school, college and university curricula.
3. How can they be developed? Skills development for AM can be considered in terms of capabilities, awareness and capacity. There needs to be a characterisation of AM capabilities to allow standards for curricula to be developed. A much wider and more sophisticated level of awareness of the potential and reality of AM technologies is needed to drive demand for AM skills development. Finally, the UK needs to have the capacity to deliver AM skills development activities at a high quality and quantity.
The development of skills for AM at a national level is a complex multi-stakeholder challenge. But a failure to address this – particularly in the current turbulent context – could directly impact on the future competitiveness of UK manufacturing. And this is especially true given the substantial efforts being made in other parts of the world to support the use of AM technologies.
Tim Minshall is Deputy Head of the University of Cambridge Institute for Manufacturing, Head of the Centre for Technology Management, and a Reader in Technology and Innovation Management at the University of Cambridge Department of Engineering. His research and teaching interests focus on open innovation, commercialisation of new production technologies, and skills/capabilities for digital manufacturing. He is Fellow of Churchill College Cambridge, a Visiting Professor at Doshisha University in Kyoto, and a Non-Executive Director of St John’s Innovation Centre, Cambridge.