The private sector must support higher education to drive the next generation of UK engineers

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Ralf Carlström, General Manager of additive manufacturing (AM) specialist Digital Metal®, outlines the steps the private sector can – and is – taking to meet engineering skills demand.

The UK needs 203,000 people with Level 3+ engineering skills every year to meet business demand, according to Engineering UK*. Academia cannot meet this demand on its own and, with 27% of UK enterprises being engineering-related and Brexit likely to impact the attractiveness of the UK as a destination for overseas engineers, the private sector has a great opportunity and responsibility to support the training of the next generation of engineers.

The skills gap is particularly acute in the additive manufacturing sector, which requires specialist experience. Existing courses often do not cover the wide base that AM requires, from design through to engineering and management. The private sector stands to benefit in the long-term by helping academia develop courses to address the new types of jobs that AM will create throughout the manufacturing chain.

The opportunity of additive manufacturing

According to the Additive Manufacturing UK National Strategy 2018-25, we can expect to see industry invest more than £600m in AM over the next five years. There is therefore a huge opportunity for the UK to gain a sizable slice of a global market that in 2017 alone was estimated to be worth more than £6bn.

AM and 3D printing could contribute £3.5bn gross value added (GVA) to the UK economy by 2025 and support 60,000, the report estimates.

With an expected annual growth of 30% it is clear that the UK will need to continue to build a solid pipeline of candidates to help it meet demand and take full advantage of the opportunities AM offers, not just in manufacturing but also in all the supporting services that it requires, such as legal, insurance and design.

Training partnerships in action

The first courses in additive manufacturing for apprentices were launched by the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) in Coventry in September 2018.

The MTC was established in 2010 as an independent research and technology organisation whose objective is to bridge the gap between academia and industry, the so-called ‘Valley of Death’, where technologies pioneered by academics and research centres are then not adopted by industry.

It is also the base of the National Centre for Additive Manufacturing (NCAM), which has a wide range of cutting-edge equipment including a Digital Metal binder-jetting machine.

Digital Metal is bringing its expertise of working with academics across Scandinavia and hopes to repeat this in the UK. The company - part of the Höganäs Group, the world’s largest producer of metal powders founded in 1797 - has been working with universities and research bodies for many decades to equip the future European labour market with the powder metallurgy and engineering skills that are needed to develop the industry and to remain competitive.

It is essential that training matches the existing and anticipated requirements of industry, so that it is relevant to both the career development of the students and also so the manufacturing sector gets candidates with the right skills to meet demand and support future goals. With metal 3D printing set to continue to be the fasted growing segment of the market until at least 2020**, it is key that engineering students have exposure to 3D metal printing.

These skills will be in high demand, with manufacturing, jewellery, automotive and other sectors driving further adoption and use of 3D metal printing.

At NCAM, organisations can see 3D metal printing in action and receive support on how to understand and adopt AM for their business. This ‘bind-and-sinter’ technology is particularly useful for handling complex designs on small, high-precision parts.

A lack of appropriate skills could prevent potential adoption of AM, so the private sector must help with the provision of practical courses, mentoring, work experience and use cases. It will be especially important to attract more women onto engineering courses, which has proved a challenge in the past, so the industry has a responsibility to make AM an attractive prospect for girls and young women studying STEM.

The time to invest in skills is now

The UK has a big chance to lead in additive manufacturing, as the recent government-backed the Additive Manufacturing UK National Strategy attests.

AM will breathe new life into manufacturing and the UK has a chance to create a competitive, highly skilled sector.  The private sector will be pivotal in helping to close this skills gap and invest in the future, making additive manufacturing an exciting career prospect and helping the sector – and the wider economy – innovate and grow.

Are you ready to get involved?


*The State of Engineering 2018

** IDTechEX 2016

Ralf Carlström

Ralf Carlström is General Manager of Digital Metal. Digital Metal, a proprietary binder-jetting AM technology developed by Höganäs AB, is making great strides into territories previously ruled by conventional manufacturing technologies. High productivity, excellent surface quality and great resolution have brought our 3D metal printing technology to a world-class benchmark standard with over…

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