Careers

3D printing technician

What is a 3D Printing Technician?

President Barack Obama said that 3D printing – which is a way of creating objects slice by slice with programmed 3D printers - has the "potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything." That’s kind of a big deal, and as a 3D printing technician you’ll be at the cutting edge of something very new... and very big indeed! So if you love science and art, and if you want a career in a new emerging field that could change our world the way computers did thirty years ago, step right up!

What is a 3D printing technician, exactly? If you’re working as a technician in 3D design rather than maintenance, you’ll help with designing and programming products that are created one wafer-thin slice at a time. You could be working on anything from unique build-it-yourself make-up and beauty products (like inventor Grace Choi) to award-winning prosthetic robot arms that change lives. It’s time to build ourselves a whole new future... with 3D printing.

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What does a 3D Printing Technician do?

3D printing is changing everything we do, from creating unique make-up to manufacturing incredible prosthetic robot limbs. In this exciting new world you’ll be what they call an ‘early adopter’. That means 3D technology is still in baby-phase, and you’ll be one of the brave pioneers helping it to grow. If we’re all very lucky, one day there could end up being a 3D printer in every home!

As a 3D printing technician you could:

  • Work with leading design studios on potentially award-winning projects
  • Make sure the 3D CAD files (this is design software) for 3D printing are perfect
  • Help out with making the timings go smoothly on printing and production
  • If you’re working on the 3D printing maintenance side of things, you could be caring for and operating state of the art 3D printers, checking 3D renderings for customers to make share they’ll print well, and running tests on powder for the print runs.
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How much could I earn?

Average salary

£42,640

Example: Programmers and software development professionals, 2015

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How to become a 3D Printing Technician

When employers talk about ‘3D printing technician’ they often (but not always) mean a design technician, not a maintenance one. Both types are very important in the 3D industry.

To become a 3D printing technician, you will need:

  • Knowledge of 3D CAD (computer-aided design) software like Solidworks, Maya, Rhino or ZBrush. Knowing Materialise Magics would be very useful too
  • A desire to make the future happen now. This means keeping up with the latest ground-breaking technology and applications of 3D printing, whether it’s in the world of fashion or prosthetics and biomedical advances in healthcare technology
  • The willingness to take on a career that harmonises creative design with engineering and mechanical precision.

Can you get 3D printing apprenticeships?

As this story from Lucy on the UCAS website shows, you can get involved with 3D printing by doing an engineering apprenticeship. She did an engineering apprenticeship, continued her studies and got a degree in mechanical and manufacturing engineering. Now she’s leading a team working on the next generation of 3D metal printer.

Some research technician apprenticeships (especially those related to printing) will also help you learn how to design 3D objects and use commercial 3D printers.

Search online for ‘3D printing apprenticeships’ and you’ll see there are lots of different  kinds of apprenticeships which will teach you what you want to know – and set you up for further learning in your career of choice, too.

Do you need degrees for a 3D printing career?

Academic qualifications aren’t as useful as proving your skill and experience in handling the software. That said, there are a number of degrees out which are tailor-made for 3D printing, and several others that are more general but would look good on your CV. These more generic degrees can also include 3D printing modules, so shop around before choosing a degree and do your research.

You should know that there are two UK universities which are FAMOUS ALL OVER THE WORLD for their incredible 3D printing research and their ground-breaking projects. If you study for a relevant degree at the University of Sheffield or the University of Nottingham, you will be at the forefront of the 3D printing revolution. You’ll be in exactly the right place to meet amazing people and maybe even work on world-changing projects. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

What’s more, the 3D printing machines at the Centre for Advanced Additive Manufacturing at Sheffield Uni are worth about £4 million. That’s a mind-boggling amount of investment they’ve put into their 3D printing technology and research! In case you’re puzzling over the centre’s name, you should know that ‘additive manufacturing’ is another way of saying ‘3D printing’.  The University of Nottingham similarly has the EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Additive Manufacturing, and internships are available there.

To be close to places like the AdAM Centre and the EPSRC Centre and breathe their air (and maybe support their research) is any newbie 3D printer’s dream.

Example UK degrees for a 3D printing career include:

  • Computer science and artificial 3D designer maker (Carmarthenshire College)
  • Manufacturing engineering (Solihull College)
  • 3D design (Plymouth University)

Example general degrees which can support a 3D career include:

  • Engineering
  • Computer and software design
  • Biomedical technology

These generalist degrees will help you focus on your preferred field of 3D printing. For example, if you’re really excited by these 3D prosthetics winning the 2015 James Dyson award, you might want to specialise in biomedical technology! When researching degrees, check to see if they have a 3D printing module as part of the course.

Finally, whatever route you decide to take, check out 3Dprintingforbeginners.com. It has lots of useful tutorials, tips and features for resources, 3D printers, 3D printing projects, 3D software, materials... and even a beginner’s corner. Go forth and learn!

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