Additive manufacturing has become a useful and important technology across many industries. Unfortunately, there is a widening gap between additive manufacturing (AM) technology and the number of workers who have the necessary skills needed to implement it. The workforce that is in place is quickly aging out of market, and the future workforce will continue to need these valuable, additive ready skills. To bridge this gap, there needs to be a change in college curriculum surrounding additive manufacturing, ensuring that students will be AM workforce ready upon graduation.
Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa has been working to improve their students’ education within additive manufacturing starting with their CAD/ MET (Mechanical Engineering Training) program. The coursework lasts two years and is designed to prepare students for tangible workforce outcomes, such as obtaining entry-level mechanical engineering technician positions after graduation. Students take courses in a broad variety of engineering disciplines such as design, fabrication, and machining and the curriculum focuses on applied engineering concepts and a variety of CAD and design classes, with a capstone class rounding out the training in the students’ last semester of the five semester program. Kirkwood is constantly updating the curriculum and making revisions in order to help students stay up-to-date with industry relevant skills.
Kristie McKibben, the professor who teaches the CAD/MET program at Kirkwoood, works hard to make sure her students are ready to jump into workforce by the end of the time they graduate. She does that by ensuring students have access to the tools industry uses. This year she invested in her students with the purchase of a Stratasys F370. This tool gave student’s access to technology industry is using and materials that are engineering grade and enabled them to work on design challenges and group projects that build workforce ready applicable skills they can utilize right after graduation. In some cases, the students are able to partner with local businesses and entrepreneurs to solve real-world challenges that put their newly developed AM skills to use. Kristie said, “One way to be able to check the fit, form and looks of a design is through 3D printing. Without 3D printing, the design process would stop at the initial design.” The printers are able to give students awesome experience with bringing additive manufacturing concepts to life. Given that students are able to 3D print their designs, they are able to see the physical result and are able to make changes as they see fit, iterating as they go, growing their designs from concept to form.