What is a 3D Printer Operator?


3D Printer Operator

I’ve been interested in 3D printing for some time but wondered what an actual 3D printer operator is. So I decided to find out the answer and explain it in this post.

What is a 3D Printer Operator? A 3D printer operator is a skilled individual who specialises in the additive manufacturing industry. They mainly use computer-aided design (CAD) to design and map the product being manufactured which is done layer by layer. It is a relatively new profession with increasing demand.

This is the simple answer but as you guessed, the role of a 3D printer operator can be more complex than it seems. There are many different classifications and roles that can make an operator as well as a set of niche skills.

How Much Does a 3D Printer Operator Make?

There’s quite a wide range of salaries that people in the 3D printing industry make. It really depends on a few things such as what country you are in, your level of experience, the position you hold and the supply and demand of labour in the position.

According to PayScale, here are some average salaries for professionals in the 3D printing industry in the US:

  • Industrial Designer: $52,018
  • Mechanical Engineer: $65,457
  • 3D Artist: $52,676 (£25,834 in the UK according to PayScale)
  • Model Maker: $50,868
  • Manufacturing Engineer: $64,001
  • Applications Engineer: $68,784
  • Project Engineer: $60,000
  • 3D Modeller: $49,253
  • 3D Printing Technician: $41,446 – Between $25,168 – $79,463

An example of how location can affect your salary is where PayScale determines that in London, people will receive 16% above the average, whereas in Manchester you’ll receive 10% below the average. The 3D printing industry is a very global business and is increasing in it’s demand through the development of technological capabilities, so I’d expect salaries to keep rising as time goes on.

What Skills Are Required for 3D Printing Employment

From looking at online listings of 3D printing jobs, I came across a Technical Sales Manager job for a company in the UK called Photocentric. They specialise in a new 3D printing method using LCD screens.

The skills listed for this job are:

  • Having a genuine interest in 3D printing
  • Degree in material science/engineering or general science
  • An in-depth knowledge of the additive manufacturing industry
  • Ambitious and driven to succeed

In such a new industry, they require a can-do approach with a good knowledge of the scientific process, as well as being able to converse with diverse groups of people within the company.

Also add to this the key responsibilities of the role:

  • Working with manufacturers to identify, consult on and develop new 3D printing applications
  • Work with engineers and chemists to develop products under these new 3D printing applications
  • Support sales and marketing teams with these new applications and create related case studies
  • Converse with other business who may want to introduce these manufacturing processes in their business, being very large international companies.

This position is highly skilled and wouldn’t be an entry job but something to look to develop into with good mentoring and experience in the industry.

A 3D Modeler job in the US involves 3D modelling, layour creation, design, and analysis of production and virtual tire development. This job doesn’t require as big a range of skills as the Technical Sales Manager job but is still highly skilled.

The skills this job requires are:

  • A Bachelors Degree with 2+ years experience
  • A Master’s Degree
  • 3D Modelling experience

Key responsibilities for this job include:

  • Using the latest tools to perform value-added modelling and engineering analysis
  • Serve as a technical lead, with organisation and planning parts of a project
  • Troubleshooting problems with existing systems, processes and technologies, some of which escalated by junior engineers.

If you are considering a job in 3D printing, the best way to get there is by simply having the on-hand experience of 3D printing and knowing which software is widely used. Some require proficient use in certain software such as Rhino 3D or Netfabb to create 3D models. You’ll have to be a good team player and be able to follow intricate instructions to thrive in these kind of jobs.

Some overall skills that are required in this field are:

  • Attention to detail
  • High mechanical aptitude – understanding how components work together
  • Effective communication skills 
  • Strong organisational abilities – to effectively manage all aspects of the printing process

How Do I Become a 3D Printer Operator

The best way to get yourself set up to become a 3D printer operator is to gather up your own first-hand experience in 3D printing. Most jobs that I’ve seen require at least 1 year experience with 3D printing as well as some kind of knowledge on the software behind printing. Bachelor degrees in related fields such as engineering or general science will be helpful in showing your capabilities to learn to specialise in the 3D printing field.

There are a few different types of 3D printing such as FFF/FDM, SLA, DMLS, SLM and so on, so being familiar with these will show your willingness to learn new methods of 3D printing. It’s a fast moving industry with many new innovations coming about, so showing adaptive traits will be in your advantage.

If you have a number of 3D printing projects behind you, as well as the independence to problem-solve any issues that you come across, this should showcase your technical abilities and the extent to which you can assist in future projects. It’s always a good idea to reach out to different 3D printing companies and really narrow down what type of skills they are looking for. There seems to be a shortage of 3D printing operators so I’m sure they will be happy to answer any questions you may have.

The 3D printing community is a very helpful one where people want to see each other succeed so it seems like a great industry to be a part of. Once you’ve shown motivation to succeed and dedication to the 3D printing industry, it should be a much easier task to transition to becoming a professional 3D printer operator.

There are number of 3D printing courses to kick-start your journey into 3D printing, as well as many forums which assist people on a daily basis with queries they have. Reddit has a great community of 3D printer enthusiasts with great information and projects/designs for you to try out or admire.

3D Printing Jobs From Home

There is such thing as freelance 3D printing jobs that you can take on in the comfort of your own home. These mainly consist of finding a platform where people request specific items for you to print then you get to work on printing them and sending them out.

An example of one of these platforms is Upwork, where you can see people requesting experienced 3D printer operators to create objects in a specific niche to their business or for a personal purpose. These can range from people needing your services for more than 6 months, at less than 10 hours per week, to a fixed price of $300 for a specific object which they will detail to you. Some people will require you to sign Non-Disclosure Agreements to take on their project.

It’s great to know that these prices are negotiated between you and the original poster of the advertisement, and they will describe whether they need an expert to complete this service or if an entry-level 3D printing operator can handle it. There are many types of these platforms so when you feel comfortable with your abilities, it’s a great way to improve on your skills with real-world projects.

Being able to decide your own hours to make a little cash on the side is a great gig, and when you start to enjoy the whole 3D printing process, it can becomes very rewarding.

Related Questions

What Does a 3D Printing Technician Do? Participate in the life cycle of manufacturing products using additive manufacturing. This can range from designing and modelling the object, to navigating the software and file preparation, to printer maintenance and develop for increased efficiency.

Is Becoming a 3D Printer Operator Worth it? Like most things, if you have genuine interest in the 3D printing field and are looking to develop your technical and creative skills, then becoming a 3D printing operator is a great idea. There are many skills you will learn on the journey, as well as like-minded individuals.

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