3D printing can seem like a daunting field to get into. After all, while there’s a lot of information, it is not a field that is “newcomer friendly”. The online information can seem very disorganised. Most people posting about the industry will jump to the nitty gritty details. Consequently, this leaves behind a lot of people who shy away from untangling engineering jargon. Another issue is discerning the good advice from the bad. Due to these obstacles, here’s our advice on how to get started.
The first way to learn is to take up courses. Admittedly, it’s hard to find local colleges, schools and universities with a sufficient 3D printing course. Thankfully, there are multiple online providers willing to pick up the slack on this. While the experience won’t be hands-on, it is still valuable nonetheless. For the practical side of it, you can always buy a DIY 3D printer kit and assemble it as you learn.
Coursera has a fantastic 3D printing course. The University of Illinois created the program along with Ultimaker and Autodesk. The study cost is 76 Euros a month. While the course is not free, applicants can be eligible for financial aid. Additionally, signees for the full specialisation receive discounts from Ultimaker, Autodesk and others. It’s definitely worth signing up for.
That said, perhaps you can’t afford the fee. Instructables has an amazing 3D printing class. It’s also geared towards those people who fancy themselves with a more hands-on approach. If you are are far more into ‘learning by doing’ this is the course for you. It covers more of the practical side and jumps straight to the nuts and bolts of 3D printing. The class is a webinar with hundreds of students worldwide.
Aside from those options, you can peruse the online libraries. MIT’s free courses have tons of resources about digital design. While their current stock is a bit bare, they update frequently. At the same time, newcomers can get quite a few free online resources. There are numerous free software out there.
Good 3D Printing courses often pile up the prices. However, it’s also true that a degree and actual experience in a lab is invaluable. This is a great option if your wallet can bear the burden. Many universities are clamouring for state of the art 3D printing labs. Research and funding is going up these days. Therefore, it’s only a matter of time that 3D printing will become a field of study on its own. While some universities do provide it as a full-fledged field, most have it as a specialisation within other studies.
Although, that does beg a pertinent question: which courses are best for a future in 3D printing? It depends highly on which part of 3D printing interests you most. Engineering can be great if you’re into the nuts and bolts aspect. Conversely, if you like the design aspect, Computer and Software Design is a good study. I covered this topic in depth previously.
Intern or Apprenticeship at firms with Printers
Perhaps you’re late to the game and haven’t studied 3D printers specifically. Perhaps you have a degree in an adjacent field but no experience in AM technologies. There are still good options for you. Seeing as how additive manufacturing technologies have not reached a zenith where they have a set curriculum in most educational institutions, most people are still learning about them through firsthand experience.
So how does one do that? You can intern at a 3D printing facility and learn to operate them from others who’ve already done the trial and error side of it. This allows you some very hands on experience and a direct mentorship. This would involve learning very quickly, as work will be expected of you, but it can be a worthwhile means of starting out in the industry.
It doesn’t even have to be a firm that deals in 3D printers. There are many side businesses utilising them for various purposes. You could learn to use one at a lab at Addidas for example. As the technology becomes more ubiquitous, further options will open up in a myriad different industries. It’s only a matter of time that these companies will have to train people to use printers in very specific ways.
Reporting or Journaling
Admittedly, this is a very roundabout means of getting into the industry. You can learn a lot about 3D printing by working with technology blogs or sites that review them. You can start off working as an intern and reading extensive literature as a part of work. This allows you to compile the data you will need in a future career.
You could set up your own web domain and work from scratch or join an existing site. Either way, you need a penchant for writing, analysing and disseminating information for this career path. You’ll have to prove you have skills and to know how the Internet operates. A skill for self-promotion is also key. It may seem an onerous path to go down but it has it’s advantages.
This way you can learn on the job and be up to date on the most recent technology. A lot of information is being released every day, so there’s so much ground to cover and if you’re genuinely passionate, it will all come naturally to you. This can be a ton of work, but you can make a living out of it. Eventually, you might even be able to review printers for a living and companies could let you test their’s.
Hopefully all the options above have been ample food for thought. Obviously, there is no right answer and everyone can develop their own way into the industry. What’s important is that you know that there is more than one place to go before you set out.