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Amputee Veteran Finds New Career in 3D Printing

New Training Program Prepares Veterans, Others to Enter Advanced Manufacturing Workforce


Grabianowski at the DOE Manufacturing Demonstration Facility. He is holding a 3D-printed DOE seal and the plastic material from which it was made. Photograph courtesy of ORAU.

While 26-year-old wounded veteran Joseph Grabianowski has inspired Americans with his harrowing war story, someday he may be nationally known for building highly efficient exhaust systems for cars and trucks using 3D printing technology. Grabianowski is part of the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) inaugural Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Advanced Manufacturing Internship. The pilot program is designed to provide accelerated, hands-on career training for veterans and next-generation engineers to prepare them to enter the workforce of the growing advanced manufacturing industry immediately.

Grabianowski stepped on an IED while deployed with his Army unit in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, in May 2012. Damage from the blast required a rare, radical amputation of his lower body. He had long dreamed of being a U.S. Marshal but knew his path would now lead in a new direction. Barely two years later, his recovery is a testament to his personal will and determination. This self-proclaimed techie now envisions a career for himself in what he calls the “future of manufacturing”-additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing. Through this program offered by the DOE’s Advanced Manufacturing Office, Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU), Tennessee, Pellissippi State Community College (PSCC), Knoxville, Tennessee, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), Grabianowski is receiving the training needed to make his career goals a reality and prepare him to succeed in the additive manufacturing world.

“Where this industry is going to boom is right here in Oak Ridge,” said Grabianowski, “and the best engineers in the field are available through this program to teach me.”

The six-week program, which began in early July, includes a combination of classroom courses taught at PSCC and hands-on laboratory activities at the DOE Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at ORNL in Oak Ridge. Participants learn to design for advanced manufacturing needs and are educated on 3D printers, fabrication techniques, and materials including titanium, carbon fiber, ABS plastics, and other composites.

“The science behind additive manufacturing is fascinating, but it really comes down to the feeling of how great it would be to help people,” said Grabianowski. “I see a future in this industry, and I can serve my country by learning the technology and software to build 3D-printed exhaust systems for cars and trucks that will save Americans millions in fuel costs someday.”

According to Robert Ivester, PhD, deputy director in the Advanced Manufacturing Office, this program is the first step in building a better system for providing veterans with timely training opportunities that will give them a competitive advantage when returning to the workforce.

“There is a skills gap in advanced manufacturing,” said Ivester. “Programs like this will provide trained workers quickly to meet our national priorities including the resurgence of manufacturing in the United States and effectively leveraging the existing skill base of transitioning service members. This program is only the first step, and we are actively seeking partners for a broader effort moving forward.”

This first program ended with a job fair at ORAU’s Pollard Technology Conference Center in Oak Ridge and a graduation ceremony held at PSCC.

“The response to the program was more than we had hoped,” said Dean Evasius, senior vice president of ORAU’s workforce development programs. “Within a few days of opening the program, we had applications from all over the United States.”

A diverse group was selected for the pilot program, including 15 Army, Navy or Marine veterans, three active duty personnel, two reservists, three FIRST Robotics students, and two undergraduate engineering students. “The job fair that ORAU is hosting will assist those participants who are ready to enter the advanced manufacturing workforce,” said Evasius.

This article was adapted from information provided by ORAU.

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