As we reach the end of Women’s History Month it’s time to reflect on our new connections and learnings. The women who have the biggest impact on my sense of belonging in the additive manufacturing industry are my fellow engineers and designers who share an infectious passion for their work. These women not only push the technical limits of additive manufacturing, but build strong collaborative networks and welcoming communities.
I asked women in AM about their favorite experiences with the additive manufacturing community and what impact they hope to have on the future of the industry. From material science to fashion to medicine, these women are connecting the dots to make an impact in their fields and build a shared additive manufacturing community across all sectors. It was moving to hear about the significance of community, collaboration, mentorship, and outreach and how it has enabled their success in our industry.
Building the Community
As innovators in our industry, accessing information and finding a sense of belonging is invaluable for our ability to create innovative ideas. This is especially relevant since the AM industry is made up of only 13% percent women, according to the nonprofit organization, Women in 3D Printing. Remembering that we’re all in this together, makes it easier to push forward new ideas and bring about change.
Amy Alexander, MS, Mechanical Unit Head at Mayo Clinic Engineering, said it’s important for women in the industry to have allies, stating “there is no innovation without failure – be free to embrace imperfection as part of the process.”
Mentorship and Youth Outreach
Mentorship is another way to open doors and give invaluable insight into our industry. Women leaders in AM need to actively and positively influence our entire community as experts and role models.
“Fostering relationships with expert AM mentors and finding like-minded colleagues has unlocked invaluable opportunities to learn and grow. The history of AM is fascinating and inspiring. The future of AM, by way of advanced patient care, supply chain revolution, and design development velocity, is vivid and virtually limitless,” said Alexander.
Ashley Alleyne is a 3D Printing Specialist, consultant, and TikToker who works in the fashion industry as a 3D technical designer for the global fashion megabrand Michael Kors. She says her goal is to teach, and more importantly, inspire others.
“We especially need to teach younger girls and People of Color (POC) that 3D printing is this wonderful technology where you can have an idea and make it come out of the machine the next day. I use TikTok to do this and I’ve specifically made sure my channel is easy to understand 3D printing without needing a technical or 3D printing background.”
From creating accessible and relatable 3D printing content to supporting schools and being role models for our future collaborators, we are inspired by how our community is driven to encourage young people to explore additive manufacturing.
Alleyne says it’s been rewarding to speak at several 3D printing events that inspire young girls to get into 3D printing.
“I love giving back as much as possible and I think it’s extremely important to get the next generation into 3D printing. Because if we don’t, what future will AM have?”
Alexander says, “the most important impact that can be made is to reach the minds of young people who have historically been marginalized in the engineering disciplines. By showing up to conferences and in publications as a woman in AM, I hope to encourage young women to engage in STEM opportunities and foster their talents and interests.”
Collaborating and Sharing Knowledge
With additive manufacturing making waves in every sector, sharing knowledge and experience across our community helps us find innovative solutions to challenging problems.
Debbie Holton, President of Metrix, an ASME Company says she learned that there are so many amazing people in this field willing to share their knowledge and experience – their successes and their failures as well.
“By collaborating with organizations like America Makes, we have seen so many incredible advances in the technology, including new materials, applications, processes, and software,” Holton says.
Alexander offers that “learning and understanding the perspectives of others continues to be the best way forward with the development of standards of quality and practice. Collaborating with commercial entities has also been fruitful; when the company can hear directly from technology users, they are better suited to develop solutions aligned with current needs.”
We all know our teams are at their best when we learn to recognize and leverage our unique strengths and join forces towards a combined vision.
“No one is an island – it will take everyone to move AM forward. We were already on this digital path – lights out factories, digital twins/digital thread, blockchain, AI/ML, electrification…additive manufacturing has been around for 30+ years but we’ve been forced into ‘Fast Forward’ mode and the advancement of technology that facilitated the change – just keeps moving faster,” said Holton.
Ellen Lee, Technical Leader of Additive Manufacturing Research at Ford Motor Company, says the most important thing she’s learned in her AM journey collaborating with others is that making it work is a team sport.
“We are best able to accelerate and achieve innovative solutions when we work as an interdisciplinary team to optimize and compromise to get the final product. This includes diverse skill sets as we consider performance, quality, cost, security, safety, scale, and so many other aspects.”
The academic space is another incubator for women collaborating in AM. Allison Beese is Associate Professor, Materials Science and Engineering and Mechanical Engineering, and Director, Additive Manufacturing & Design Graduate Program at Penn State. She says, “I enjoy the people I get to work with – from students in my group to colleagues within Penn State and far beyond – and the fact that we get to interface with colleagues in academia, national labs, and industry to solve challenging problems.”
Driving the Future of Additive Manufacturing
Our collective drive to build the future of additive manufacturing is what brings us together and inspires us to collaborate and continuously push the boundaries of the technology.
“AM will continue to be a key enabling technology to digital transformation and new manufacturing capabilities. I hope that by bringing people together, we can advance the technology, build awareness and knowledge and increase adoption,” says Holton.
Lee says she hopes that her efforts can help to address the challenge of scalability and production capability.
“As part of the automotive industry, scaling for high volume applications is important, and validating production capability is essential. Although AM technologies have been around for decades, much of that time has focused on prototyping and the value of truly bespoke uses; as such, we have only recently started to focus on aspects of scaled production and qualification.”
Our women in additive manufacturing community covers a diverse breadth of sectors, backgrounds, and technologies but we share a common drive to build a future where all women are welcome and empowered to pursue their unique approaches to progress the technology. As a collective we are able to connect the dots and learn from our successes and failures to tackle the big-picture challenges in our industry.