We have been following the story of Rize Inc. and its mission to remove the strain of post-processing — the ‘dirty little secret of 3D printing’ and a seemingly small area with a big impact — from the equation. The company had been operating in stealth for two years before announcing the Rize One 3D printer last summer and catapulting the innovation into the spotlight. Rize’s team has been filled from the start with experienced individuals coming from extensive backgrounds in 3D printing, all understanding the technology and its limitations, and working toward a common goal of removing some of those limits to help 3D printing live up to its potential. We’ve talked with the company before to learn more about how and why the Rize One and its Augmented Polymer Deposition (APD) technology was developed; I’ve also had the opportunity to meet the team, see the 3D printer, and snap off supports from a Rize-printed part, and it really is as easy as they say.
Rize has more patents (around 20) than employees (around 15), underscoring the level of drive among the team. Key to the personnel and operations at Rize is Julie Reece, the Vice President of Marketing, herself an experienced veteran in the 3D printing industry. Reece, whom we’ve previously spoken with during her tenure at Mcor, has spent much of her career surrounded by the latest in 3D printing, working up a thorough understanding of and appreciation for the technology and its many uses — as well as an insider’s look at the industry and what makes it tick. And how it can grow.
Reece has been among panelists lately speaking to key issues in the industry, including that of diversity, a theme near to her heart and to ours, sharing her insights regarding the development and maturation of the industry. It is with great joy that I enjoyed the opportunity to talk with her for our Spotlight on Women series.Can you tell us briefly about your educational/professional background and what led you to a career in the 3D printing world?
“I have a Master of Science degree in Communications from Boston University and a BA in English from Trinity College, Hartford, CT. I’ve worked in a marketing capacity for a variety of industries throughout my career, including financial services, women’s apparel, software and 3D printing. I feel as though I’m part of a shrinking breed of marketing ‘generalists,’ that is, someone who has expertise across nearly every facet of marketing (PR, writing and producing different types of content, Website development, demand generation, branding, events, social marketing, project management and more…you name it. I started my career at the bottom rung of the corporate ladder and have worked very hard, clawing and scratching my way up the ladder for nearly 30 years. Although I reached a point in my career where I landed strategic senior-level roles, I am just as comfortable and happy executing every detail of the programs I develop. I thoroughly enjoy that unique combination of strategic planning and hands-on implementation across marketing disciplines, as well as rallying cross-functional and cross-geographical teams.
I fell into 3D printing completely by accident. I had been working for a company that was about to be acquired and knew from my work on their transition team, that the company’s future was very uncertain. My recruiter called me with an opportunity for which she apologized in advance, knowing that I probably wouldn’t be too excited about the prospect of working for a 3D printer manufacturer. I had never heard of 3D printing. Yet, she assured me it was a great opportunity and encouraged me to avoid making any judgments until I met them. That hiring company was Z Corporation (later acquired by 3D Systems). I joined within two weeks and never looked back. OK, there were two times I looked back – briefly. In each instance, I missed 3D printing so much, I returned in less than a year. Now I truly can’t envision working outside of the 3D printing industry.”
In your nearly-decade working in 3D printing, what trends have you noticed as the industry has grown?
“So much has happened over the last ten years since I entered this industry. When I started, there were only a few major companies: mainly 3D Systems, Stratasys and Z Corporation. The product differentiation was clear, especially for us then at Z Corp. (the only full color solution at the time) and everyone’s focus was on industrial and educational applications. Then, along came THE wrench video back in 2011 that went viral. You might remember it, Dr. David Kaplan of National Geographic came to Z Corp. and we 3D scanned and 3D printed a functional wrench for his show with the premise that tools could be printed on the fly in space and in other remote locations. It was a simple PR placement I secured featuring one of my colleagues, and for the first time, the masses were introduced to this tech. At its peak, we had around nine million views. People who hadn’t heard about 3D printing even called it a hoax, even though the tech had been used for years in industry. We had folks showing up to our office unannounced to see if we were legit. That single event seemed to introduce 3D printing to the masses and spawn the consumer/hobbyist market. We in the industry knew the idea of consumer 3D printing was filled with hype and over promise; the need, materials, expertise, etc. for the consumer market just weren’t, and still aren’t, there, yet the media and investors went crazy. Patents expired, enabling loads of hobby-class/consumer copycats to enter the market.
As we expected, that bubble burst and now we’re back to focus on the industrial market. Yet, there’s another bubble that I believe will burst; the hype and over-inflated expectations about the metal 3D printing market. There are certainly niche applications for metal 3D printers, but, despite the hype, the vast majority of the market is still, and will remain, in plastics for a variety of reasons.
We’re also seeing hobby-class 3D printer manufacturers marketing their machines as industrial 3D printers, despite their inability to meet the rigorous mechanical and material needs of the industrial market. And, we’re seeing loads of similar technologies, some low cost and small and some high cost and large; most finding it difficult to differentiate themselves. Further, the big companies are not innovating; rather, they’re introducing different flavors of what they already have. All these factors will lead to considerable consolidation over the next couple of years.
Looking ahead, the holy grail for the industry is the ability to 3D print customized injection molded-quality parts on demand, safely and affordably.”
What drew you to working at Rize? What do you feel keeps the company on a growth trajectory?
“Joining Rize one year ago was one of the two times I returned to 3D printing in less than a year. The timing was perfect. Rize needed someone to build and run marketing and I wanted to return to 3D printing in a capacity where I could have a tangible impact on the business. The Rize team is comprised mostly of former Z Corporation colleagues and that, alone, was an enormous plus. I saw the technology that the Rize team was developing and I knew instantly that it solved a real user need and filled a large, unmet market segment in the industry – a zero-post-processing 3D printer that can be used in any location to produce injection molded-quality parts anywhere, anytime, safely, cleanly, quickly and inexpensively. No one else can do this.There are very few 3D printing companies today who are really innovating. Most are introducing slight variations of what they already have or what someone else has, but they aren’t looking to solve user problems in completely new ways. We are. Rize is comprised of industry pioneers with over 20 3D printing patents among the team and we are innovating every day, thinking out of the box with entirely new technology to help primarily industrial and medical additive manufacturing users in an exponential manner. The market recognizes this and we have had an overwhelming response from users, channel and the industry in general.”
What makes for an appealing launch in 3D printing, and how can a company like Rize continue to build on initial announcements?
“The best 3D printing launches incorporate clear and consistent benefit-oriented messages communicated across numerous sales and marketing vehicles and platforms in a highly-coordinated manner. And, it’s always important to remember (but often neglected by companies) to communicate with internal stakeholders (i.e.; employees and channel) in advance of the launch to ensure a coordinated, consistent launch and to get the biggest bang for the buck. Further, key messages and themes require supporting and credible content at launch, such as testimonials, third-party testing and case studies, that are delivered in a carefully planned and timed manner in the weeks and months following launch to achieve credibility and maintain momentum. This does not necessarily require big budgets. Some of the most successful launches I’ve been involved with have had painfully low budgets, but have been smartly planned and executed.
At Rize, we have been able to effectively build on our initial announcement with content that substantiates our claims, such as Todd Grimm’s report about the impact of post-processing, case studies, third-party comparative strength, cost and time testing and more, and then leverage that content across a number of sales and marketing vehicles. Engineers don’t want to be sold; they need proof.”
As an experienced executive in the industry, do you feel your daily experience is at all substantively different from those of men in similar positions?
“Yes, without question. And in my answer to this question, I draw from experience throughout my career. What I’ve experienced in the 3D printing industry specifically isn’t any different than any other male-dominated industries. Like other male-dominated industries, women in 3D printing need to be confident, outspoken and work twice as hard to be heard and respected vs. their male counterparts. Yet, the confidence to be outspoken and self-advocate can be very difficult, particularly early in your career. In fact, I have only been able to put these skills into practice over the last couple of years and it’s amazing to see the positive results. Unfortunately, a common professional reality is that women have to prove themselves from the outset, while men are assumed proven.
In professional situations throughout my career, I’ve repeatedly been spoken to in a highly inappropriate manner regarding different aspects of my appearance, told I think a certain way or have a particular opinion because I am a woman (sometimes phrased in a graphic manner), hit on, instructed to dress in a manner and serve alcohol behind a bar in a trade show booth similar to hired women meant to attract booth traffic, disregarded and talked over in meetings, routinely asked to perform administrative tasks as a senior-level employee during my busiest times that could easily have been delegated to far less-busy junior-level male colleagues and interns, paid less for equal work and education level and so much more that would frankly shock you. I haven’t seen any of these things happen to men and I no longer let them happen to me.”
Women, yourself included, are appearing more frequently on panels at 3D printing-focused events; how do you see this upward trend affecting industry participation?
“Discussion and panels about women in 3D printing will unquestionably result in an increase in women not only participating in additive manufacturing, but being recognized more for their contributions and taking leadership roles at their companies. The more that women outside the industry and graduating from schools can see the accomplishments and influence of women in our industry, the more they will be inspired to join. I was genuinely surprised by how many women, some of whom I had never met, contacted me privately after my ‘Women in Additive Manufacturing: Have We Moved the Needle‘ blog published to share their experiences and say how glad they were that women are now talking about our role in the industry. I was equally moved by support from so many men. This dialog has increased productive discussion and awareness among my male colleagues and other men in the industry, some of whom previously felt that women were treated equally, until I (and other women) provided them with a woman’s perspective and examples, and others who agreed that more should be done to create an equal environment. This is a very encouraging trend.”
What would you hope to see in the way of a more diverse workforce in 3D printing over the next year? Five years?
“I estimate that the percentage of women working at 3D printer manufacturers, service bureaus, resellers and women working in additive manufacturing labs to be less than 20%, which appears to be about the same as it was ten years ago. Of those women, the majority, myself included, tend to work in a sales/marketing, editorial, artist/design or administrative capacity. There are indeed female engineers, scientists and additive manufacturing managers, but we don’t see them in nearly the same numbers as their male counterparts and they haven’t risen to influential senior management positions in large numbers. I expect it will take around five years, until young women benefiting from STEM/STEAM education enter the additive manufacturing industry professionally, before these numbers increase significantly. In the meantime, within the next year, I hope to see more female pioneers who already work in the industry promoted to C-level positions.”
These are big themes; how can companies break these down into actionable projects and initiatives?
“The best approach to implementing a diversity initiative will vary by company. Undoubtedly, large companies with sophisticated human resources departments have documented equality policies and initiatives in place. It might be more difficult to implement at smaller companies where HR is less formalized. In both cases, establishing a small cross-functional and cross-gender team or committee to plan, prioritize and implement gender equality and awareness training, hiring initiatives and anonymous reporting/suggestions would be a great way to start.”
What do you see as the biggest challenges to diversity in the 3D printing industry? The biggest benefits to a more diverse workforce?
“The most immediate challenge to gender diversity in 3D printing is that few women currently hold C-level, decision-making positions. It’s not that men intentionally practice gender inequality; often they simply do not realize that they are doing so. In fact, some of the worst offenders I’ve experienced over the years asserted to me how gender equal they are. Female C-level executives will ensure a more diverse workplace.
The other key challenge to gender diversity is the low percentage of female engineers. I expect this will be rectified over time as more young women benefit from STEM/STEAM education initiatives.
There are numerous benefits of workplace diversity. Several reputable studies in the US and abroad have demonstrated increased productivity due to varied skill sets and other factors, improved morale and job satisfaction, decreased turnover, better communication and so much more, all of which adds up to significant revenue increases. In fact, according to a study recently published in the Journal of Economics and Management Strategy, creating a workforce that evenly represents both genders can increase revenue by about 41%. That’s the kind of hard economic data that will incent employers to support corporate gender equality initiatives.”
What would you want to tell girls considering the pursuit of studying STEM areas? What about advice for women interested in working in 3D printing?
“Although an increasing number of women are entering additive manufacturing in a variety of roles, it is still a heavily male-dominated industry. And, like other male-dominated industries, women must be confident in their expertise and convey that when they speak, be outspoken when needed and work at least twice as hard as their male counterparts to be heard and respected. Women can’t be afraid to do so or to self-advocate and set boundaries. Be clear and direct in your communication. Above all, make sure you maintain a great sense of humor; you can do all those things while enjoying a great professional relationship with your male colleagues and without making them feel as though they are walking on eggshells around you.
I have also found great support in talking with and befriending some remarkable women in the industry and suggest that other women do the same. Sharing ideas and experiences can be powerful and enormously beneficial.
The additive manufacturing industry isn’t for those who are risk adverse, whether you are male or female. There will be considerable consolidation over the coming years and you must accept this risk if you want to work happily in the industry.
The rewards of this industry are endless. I can honestly say that I feel respected, I’m passionate about what I do, I love 3D printing and I have made lifelong male and female friends in the industry.”
3D printing offers a broad range of benefits in terms of both technology and career. As Julie Reece underscores, this is an industry where some bravery comes into play, and where determination is rewarded. The community built up inside the industry is itself a valuable resource — often seen as a family — and working with the right team can only offer greater strength to the whole. Discuss in the Julie Reece forum at 3DPB.com.
If you are interested in sharing your story, or know a woman we should get in touch with for this new series, please reach out any time. Send us an email or connect on Twitter. We’re looking forward to sharing more stories about women in 3D printing. Find all the features in this series here.