Buzz around the 3D printing industry has reverberated throughout the news media over the past 18 months. We’ve watched additive manufacturing (AM) blossom in the free market, evolving from a post-patent debutante niche into widespread adoption across several manufacturing verticals.

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Job market experts often discuss a domestic skills gap in the U.S. manufacturing sector conversation. The assembly line jobs of last century have undergone a metamorphosis; these positions are now computer-based, and are in demand and pay well. It is yet another indicator that manufacturing jobs in the U.S. need to be thought of a high-tech, and, yes, you can earn a substantial living as a widget maker in 21st century America.

Now, perhaps in 2017, we can rethink the image of George Jetson as a 3D printing professional.

The new look of U.S. manufacturing

Workers of all ages and backgrounds can pivot into a career in 3D printing--whether that’s for a big engineering firm, or as a solo entrepreneur.

For example, a Charleston, South Carolina woman who spent two decades designing fire engines parlayed her hands-on 3D printing training to open a niche business designing wedding cake toppers—she is able to use a tablet and consumer-grade 3D printers to create convincing figurines of the bride and groom. You can purchase a capable 3D printer for under $1,200 and if you’re handy with 3D design applications, the only limit is your imagination and business sense.

If you’re looking to hop aboard a more established firm as a fabricator, there are plenty of opportunities for engineering graduates in literally every major industry—aerospace, automotive, healthcare, defense contractors, education, and more. All are in full swing incorporating 3D printed prototyping into research and development phases of production. Many companies are even 3D printing finished parts and products.

Industrial 3D printers employ a technology called binder jetting, which prints using materials like sand, ceramic, and mixture of chemicals to hold them together. These type of machines operate at a larger scale compared to the craft-grade machines; they perform at a higher level of precision, and usually cost upwards of $20,000.

Industrial-grade additive manufacturing roles and skills sets

Again, almost all modern industrial jobs demand computer know-how. An embedded systems engineer works on the firmware controlling the mechanical components of a 3D printer. Custom hardware for 3D printing has ample room for creative ingenuity afforded by small, low-power ARM processors and a relatively blank slate for software development; a computer science and electrical engineering background is ideal for harnessing its potential. Companies want C-language proficiency, and it helps if you can wield a soldering iron with equal proficiency.

A good IT professional is always in demand to ensure the smooth running of 3D modeling computer systems. Software administrators for commercial-grade additive manufacturing are experts with 3D engineering content management systems like 3DPrinterOS, for example, which is used from end-to-end of the designing process. Blueprints, datasheets, and documentation—this workflow is all digital and hosted both on premises and in the cloud, and integrates with CAD software modeling applications like Rhino 3D. Anywhere engineers and designers collaborate with software, network architects and systems engineers will earn top dollar.

For entry level AM design jobs, SolidWorks proficiency is the industry standard so expect employers to look for it on a resume. For mechanical design engineers, using a 3D printer makes a logical peripheral skill to master—if you did not start at the university level, consider purchasing a craft-grade printer to get started with AM and software design programs.

Inevitably, like any machine, 3D printers break down due to mechanical failure and wrench-and-solder repair work is needed. Field service technician jobs for professionals familiar with industrial grade 3D printers are in demand as a result. Remember! Computer skills are a must—employers want to see a strong understanding of Windows 7/8/10 and related hardware and networking devices, and an overall grasp of digital circuitry and command line computer skills.

Interested in a career in 3D printing? Find all of our available jobs here.

Adam Lovinus is a three-dimensional technology writer in Orange County, California.