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Is Additive Manufacturing Transforming an Industrial City? Bridging the Skills Gap

Currently, the UK faces a 20,000 person yearly deficit in engineering and manufacturing talent needed to operate historically industrial cities, like Manchester. PrintCity is training the next generation of builders: additive manufacturing engineers specializing in the use of professional 3D printers.

Manchester’s PrintCity trains students in additive manufacturing and 3D printing technologies. They're home to manufacturing experts, designers, engineers and students and collaborate with businesses big or small to make even the most ambitious ideas a reality. Markforged's Digital Forge empowers PrintCity faculty and students with the ability to rapidly prototype designs, and use the same professional 3D printer to also create end use parts that can be used on the factory floor.

Meet Manchester Metropolitan University's PrintCity program.

About the Print City Additive Manufacturing Center

PrintCity is an additive manufacturing center located in Manchester, UK. PrintCity is a part of Manchester Metropolitan University, and was formed to help bridge the UK’s engineering and manufacturing talent gap by introducing students and faculty members to additive manufacturing and teaching professional 3D printer skills.

The key role of PrintCity is to prepare engineering and additive manufacturing talent to make an immediate impact working in industry — from SMEs all the way up to the scaled manufacturing operations of multinational corporations.

PrintCity started six years ago: with just one staff member and one lathe room. After cleaning up the lathe room and adding professional 3D printers, PrintCity grew its staff members to a team of 24 and eventually migrated to its own facility. Now, PrintCity is its own major research facility in the university with with over 60 professional d3D printers

With PrintCity, Manchester Metropolitan University is one of the first universities to offer additive manufacturing courses and pave the way in bridging the UK’s national skills gap for manufacturing and professional 3D printing skills.

Edmund Keefe is a Senior Lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University's PrintCity.

The Mission: A Better Additive Manufacturing Education

Edmund Keefe is a Senior Lecturer at PrintCity. “All of the people we speak to, they all come back with the same response. They’re looking for graduates who understand additive manufacturing and how to bring that skill set into the company," says Keefe. “At PrintCity, we pride ourselves in being a multidisciplinary, doors open facility open to all students right across campus from the art school to the business school to engineering. Students can all come in and incorporate 3D printing into their practice.”

Jack Thomas is a Manchester Metropolitan University graduate. After earning his BA in textiles, Thomas moved on to the Industrial Digitalizations masters program at PrintCity, where he now works as a Technical Specialist for the PrintCity Network program. According to Thomas, professional 3D printers with easy-to-use 3D printing software are valuable tools for builders across a range of professions and industries, from textiles practitioners to fashion designers to architects.

“Many industry practitioners come to us through the PrintCity network. We train and upskill them through our program. We train them about many different aspects of additive manufacturing," says Thomas.

According to Thomas, a good part of that is teaching these industry practitioners about the new speed of fabrication that professional 3D printers make possible, for purposes like rapid prototyping and strong end-use parts needed on short notice.

What Do the Industry Experts Think?

Fabricon Design is in greater Manchester, operating from a 20,000 square foot factory. Fabricon Design offers prototype and full scale production under one roof, with services such as additive manufacturing and traditional CNC machining. Fabricon Design’s professional 3D printer is a Markforged X7, which boosts workshop productivity through use as a production tool while also augmenting CNC machining.

Rebecca Lee-Panton is a Compliance Manager at Fabricon Design. “We designed the parts in our 3D software, the part is then ready to be printed without further intervention by anyone. We press a button on the X7 and walk away, and when we return the jig fixture is ready to be used in our CNCs," says Lee-Panton.

Collaborating with PrintCity at Manchester Metropolitan University, Fabricon Design seeks to use this partnership to help narrow the UK’s skills gap for engineers and manufacturing professionals. PrintCity students interning can experience firsthand how Fabricon Design integrates additive manufacturing and traditional manufacturing processes together to help build comprehensive manufacturing skill sets.

“Markforged has become an integral part of our toolbox as manufacturers," says Lee-Panton.

Applying Additive Manufacturing to Industry: PrintCity’s Graduates

PrintCity’s graduates have been successful in gaining employment in the region with their digital manufacturing and additive manufacturing skill sets. As the facility continues to grow and expand, expect to see more of Manchester Metropolitan University’s PrintCity graduates taking on additive manufacturing roles across the UK and beyond.

From left to right: PrintCity's Jack Thomas (Technical Specialist), Edmund Keefe (Senior Lecturer), Mark Chester (Product Development Specialist)

Why Universities Are Committing to Additive Manufacturing

Additive is changing manufacturing across all industries — everything from automotive and aerospace to medical devices. Leading educational institutions such as Manchester Metropolitan University are recognizing that, and building important professional 3D printing programs such as PrintCity to equip the next generation of leaders in manufacturing with future-facing skill sets.

Lux Research in Boston projects the additive manufacturing market to reach $51 billion in 2030, compared to $12 billion in 2020 - growing at a 15% compound annual growth rate. Due to the increase in the number of materials and methods compatible with additive manufacturing, applications are broadening, and AM is growing at a much faster rate than traditional, subtractive manufacturing technologies.

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