Check Out the High-Tech Field of Advanced Manufacturing

Posted January 17, 2022

The manufacturing industry is constantly evolving. Traditional manufacturing — large assembly lines in sprawling industrial complexes — was once considered revolutionary. A similar disruption called advanced manufacturing is happening in the industry today. Advanced manufacturing uses cutting-edge technologies and raw materials to design and fabricate a variety of products. It’s increasingly being incorporated in more and more industries, but is commonly used in the medical, pharmaceutical, aerospace and electric automotive industries.

So, what is advanced manufacturing? Advanced manufacturing involves complex technology and machining to make a variety of products. It can be broken down into two main categories: additive and subtractive manufacturing.

Additive manufacturing is the process of incrementally building raw materials on one another to create a prototype or product. 3D printing is a great example of additive manufacturing. These special printers precisely create layers of plastic, resin, metal and other types of materials to make various items. There are several other types of additive manufacturing, including:

  • Laser sintering
  • Material extrusion
  • Material jetting
  • Binder jetting
  • Powder bed fusion
  • Direct energy deposition
  • Sheet lamination

Fun fact: Habitat for Humanity completed the first 3D-printed house in the United States in 2021.

Subtractive manufacturing is the process of incrementally removing materials to create a prototype or product. Laser cutting is a great example of subtractive manufacturing. Lasers cut away pieces from an otherwise whole object for a desired effect, and they do so with great precision. There are several other types of subtractive manufacturing, including:

  • Computer numerical control (CNC) machining, which can involve lathe turners, drills, mills, bores or reams
  • Electrical discharge machining
  • Water jet cutting

Fun fact: Laser cutting has been used to create unique and artistic building facades. 

Benefits of Advanced Manufacturing

Many advanced manufacturing processes involve computer designs, specs and controls. This digital element allows for greater precision in the manufacturing process, which helps decrease waste. The high-tech machines also allow manufacturers to take advantage of innovative raw materials — everything from concrete to chemical powders — that are well-suited for a variety of highly specialized applications.

Advanced manufacturing allows for faster and more affordable prototyping, which helps designers and engineers incrementally improve their products before taking them to market. It also means that more digital designers and engineers can make their ideas a reality and get them to market than ever before.

With continuous improvement, greater flexibility and faster speed, advanced manufacturing can also increase productivity and create more room for innovation in industries where it’s used.

Industries Using Advanced Manufacturing

Whether changing the game or streamlining existing production processes, advanced manufacturing uses a wide range of raw materials — from organic matter to metal — to benefit many industries. Here are some interesting applications:

  • Medicine: Prosthetics, implants, synthetic organs, orthotics and surgical models 
  • Pharmaceuticals: Prescription and over-the-counter drugs in varying strengths and shapes 
  • Aerospace: Wings (with special structures that are strong, yet lightweight), rocket engines and astronaut uniforms 
  • Electric autos: Electric motors, parts with more organic shapes and structures, battery casings and heat exchangers 

From parts to specialized tools, the possibilities are almost limitless.

Fun fact: Many naval ships keep 3D printers on board so personnel can easily make parts needed for repairs, rather than having to carry many large parts.

Jobs in Advanced Manufacturing

From highly trained computer engineers to technically proficient machine operators, there are lots of career opportunities in the field of advanced manufacturing. Because the technology and processes are relatively new and continually evolving, the jobs will continue to evolve, too. (Some of these jobs didn’t exist 10 years ago and 10 years from now, there will likely be new jobs in this growing field!)

Here are some different jobs you can find in advanced manufacturing:

Continued growth in advanced manufacturing means the need for skilled professionals will continue to rise. This in-demand field can be quite lucrative, with salaries ranging from $22-$132K a year.

How to Get Started in Advanced Manufacturing

If advanced manufacturing sounds interesting, there are lots of ways you can start exploring this field. Many schools and local technical colleges offer courses and programs in welding, 3D printing, computer design and more. Your local library can be a great resource, as some provide free access to 3D printers and classes in computer design. You can even visit local businesses, like laser engraving services, and ask if they’d tell your kids about their operation. Many technical and community colleges in Kansas provide training for these jobs.