Over the past few years, 3D printing has become common. Now 3D printers are in homes, dentist’s offices, libraries and nearly all industrial and manufacturing settings.
From parts and components to decorative items, 3D printers can make most anything. But it wasn’t until 3D-printing patents started expiring in the mid-2010s that the technology entered the mainstream.
“We were out there by ourselves [for many years] doing our own things. What’s really changing is the world has caught up with us,” said Sarah Boisvert, who has done 3D printing since 1996 and launched her 3D-manufacturing company, Fab Lab Hub, in Santa Fe in January 2018.
What Boisvert knows is that all the automation that comes with 3D printing and robotics still requires human partners.
“We are giving humans in blue-collar digital jobs the skills to program, maintain and fix the technologies,” Boisvert said. “It takes people to design the products.”
She has become a national leader in a new form of continuing and vocational education: digital badges for “new-collar” jobs — a niche between the traditional blue-collar and white-collar designations.
Instead of two- or four-year college degrees, Boisvert and MIT have pioneered digital badges, a certification people can earn in four to six weeks in a specific task.
“New-collar jobs are digital jobs that used to be blue collar,” Boisvert said. “Blue-collar jobs have been digitized. Even welding is now digital. More and more employers are valuing skills over degrees.”
Boisvert now offers eight badges through her New Collar Network — her education branch — and her newly established New Collar Innovation Center, both based at the Santa Fe Higher Education Center with Fab Lab Hub. She started the Fab Lab Hub at Santa Fe Community College and moved to HEC in July 2020.
The community college serves as her landlord and is collaborating with Fab Lab and the New Collar Network to launch the New Collar Innovation Center.
“The New Collar Innovation Center does just that — opening doors to a wider audience, especially through New Collar classes offered through SFCC’s Continuing Education program,” community college President Becky Rowley said in a statement.
The innovation center is celebrating its grand opening with a week of festivities that end Sunday.
Digital badges are usually earned individually through continuing education courses at the community college. Starting Aug. 23, the innovation center will offer a 3D-printing boot camp. In a four-week, full-time course, students can earn a master badge — eight digital badges, Boisvert said.
Badges offered through the New Collar Innovation Center include computer-aided design, operating a 3D printer, repairing a robot, design thinking, laser and computer numerical control machining, and technical writing.
The boot camp will be free of charge. The innovation center in May was approved as a training provider for the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which provides funding to cover student fees, Boisvert said.
Jed Beddo is a registered apprentice at Fab Lab Hub. He has earned seven badges and now is designing and 3D printing parts to customize a 3D printer.
“I never 3D-printed before,” Beddo said. “I picked it up pretty quick. It doesn’t take four years. It’s a micro-certification. [It shows] I know how to do this one skill.”
Fab Lab Hub, which doubles as the education lab, has 10 3D printers. In July, Boisvert took delivery of a Nexa3D printer that advances Fab Lab Hub from simple 3D printing to production-volume printing.
“Before, I could print 10 [items] overnight,” she said. “Now, I can do 100 in an hour with Nexa3D. During coronavirus, we made test swabs. We made 500 in one day with the old machine. We can make 12,000 a day with Nexa3D. Before, I could do only prototyping. Now I can do high-speed production.”
Boisvert and the community college are also collaborating with Los Alamos National Laboratory.
“I want much more collaborative effort between academia, government and industry,” Boisvert said.
She wants to involve member businesses in the New Mexico Technology Council as both job sources for students with digital badges and as clients for Fab Lab Hub. Boisvert welcomes other business partners that are engaged in 3D printing.
“No longer are these jobs just in manufacturing,” Boisvert said. “They are across all industries.”