In the 2012 movie, “The Avengers”, Tony Stark, aka Ironman, uses a 3-D hologram to manufacture weaponry. And although many movie-goers thought this was pure fantasy, the scene’s similarity to next generation manufacturing is much closer than most of us imagine. Both Apple and Samsung are battling for 3-D screen dominance, but Disney (yes, Walt Disney) announced last year that its research and development department created “swept frequency capacitive sensing” that makes virtually any material into a touchscreen.
One of the hottest careers in next gen manufacturing will be for “materials engineers” in the discipline of materials science. Materials science analyzes the relationship between the structure of materials at molecular or atomic scales and their macroscopic properties. To be one, you’ll need to know applied physics and chemistry. Right now materials science is being used in forensic engineering and failure analysis, but as companies like Apple and Disney make our consumer fantasies come true, it’s a sure bet that the demand for these professionals will grow.
Here at NIST, we’re developing testbeds, measurements and models, as well as defining benchmarks for materials such as ceramics, plastics, high-strength alloys, polymers and more. Within NIST, at the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), we’re keeping our ears to the ground and eyes to the future, trying to understand what 21st century manufacturing will encompass. We have a pretty good idea that additive manufacturing and materials science will be a big part of it, but alongside our assumptions, we’re working to figure out what types of educational credentials will be needed for our future Tony Starks.
The National Science Foundation’s Advanced Technology Education Centers are helping us out by investing in post-secondary education credentials in additive manufacturing, 3-D printing, materials science, optics and much more. With their help, MEP will be able to inform small and medium-sized manufacturers as to what to look for when hiring next generation manufacturing employees. And by partnering with K-12 and post-secondary educational institutions, MEP can help future teachers actually get us to the future.
 Ben Kunz. Bloomberg Businessweek Technology. http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-08-07/why-apple-will-turn-to-holograms