Many active in the 3D printing industry today did not necessarily foresee the career path that would lead them to additive manufacturing, including for those working with some of the biggest names in today’s industry. EnvisionTEC has been on a growth trajectory for some time now as it celebrates its 15th anniversary, regularly rolling out new product introductions in the form of both 3D printers and materials for fields as varied as dentistry, jewelry, and industrial Robotic Additive Manufacturing with a partner. With applications so varied, great focus is needed among those behind the products — and for EnvisionTEC, service and applications technician Lauren Umbarger is a key member of that team.
Umbarger, who entered the industry first as a user, has now found a home in 3D printing. Her experiences have brought her into contact with a broad range of technologies and personalities, and she is now sharing her thoughts with us as we continue to put the Spotlight on Women in the 3D printing world.
Can you tell us briefly about your educational/professional background, and how you came to work in the 3D printing industry?
“I received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Metals from Ball State University. I’ve always been interested in jewelry and working with my hands so it seemed a natural choice. In college, we got a 3D printer in my third year (2006) and I found it very fascinating. It was my first time seeing any technology like that and I wanted to know everything about it. I took an animation course as it was the closest thing we had to a CAD (Computer Aided Design) class just so I could try to understand how to make things to print on the school’s printer.
After graduation, I got a job in Chicago working for a jewelry manufacturing company. I initially applied to work as a bench jeweler but ended up managing their CAM (Computer Aided Machines) department.
I encountered several different kinds of printers there and really fell in love with the technology.”
Do you feel an arts-focused background uniquely prepared you for some 3D printing applications?
“Being an art major, and an artist in general, I am constantly pushed to see things in different ways and find unique solutions to problems.
I use this out-of-the-box thinking every day in trying to solve problems and assist customers, whether it be in training or repairs.
Being a 3D artist, I’m always wanting to work with my hands and take things apart to see what makes them work. I feel like it’s very akin to being an engineer but without the math.”
What about EnvisionTEC was appealing to you in joining this industry?
“When I began working with 3D printers exclusively, I worked with many brands. Out of all the machines I worked with, the EnvisionTEC machines were always the most dependable and highest quality. The design of the machines made sense and they were easy to work on. I wasn’t having to replace jets or spend hours calibrating. I also had wonderful experiences with their support team and the front office staff while being a customer, to the point where I actually became friends with a few of them. I decided then that working in the industry and helping people was my life calling.”
What have you observed over the last five or so years as the 3D printing industry has grown and changed?
“The biggest thing I’ve noticed is all the new companies coming in making consumer-grade printers. I’m so intrigued by the design and efforts of the companies making kit and low cost printers. I’m also amazed at how much the size has changed on the units over the past 11 years of knowing 3D printers existed. A unit that used to be the size of a large filing cabinet can now fit comfortably on your desk.
Lastly, I’m so impressed by how much 3D printing has moved into the medical field. 3D printed prosthetics, growing bone and flesh; it’s incredible. If you had asked me five or ten years ago if I thought we would be at this stage today, with helping people restore normal function to their lives, or even saving lives, I would have told you no. I think that is the one I hear the most about from friends and family, how 3D printing has saved and changed lives. It’s incredibly rewarding, and I’m proud to be part of it.”
From working initially with customers in the jewelry industry, you’ve branched out into a broader range of applications; what have been some of your favorite parts about working in 3D printing, and with EnvisionTEC’s customers?
“Honestly, I love our customers. I don’t even think of most of them as customers; they are friends. I get to hear about their lives and see the amazing things they do with our printers every day. I get to help the world through them, and it’s pretty amazing. I’ve recently started becoming more involved in the dental and hearing aid industries. I’m always fascinated by seeing what all can be done and is being developed. Being someone who had orthodontic work in my youth, it’s awesome to see the change in progress they’ve made in teeth alignment.
I think that is the thing I love most about my job; as much as I teach our customers how to use the new technology, I’m constantly learning about how the technology is improving the world. There is never a boring day in this industry!”
As an experienced 3D printing technician, do you feel your overall experience has been in any notable ways substantively different from those of men in similar positions?
“I have definitely had some interesting experiences in the field that some of my coworkers have not. When a woman gets on the phone or shows up, sometimes customers or outside people don’t realize I am the technician who will help them. I think my best advice in my years of service is to have confidence in yourself and to understand that your knowledge really is key to commanding attention and respect in any situation. It takes a strong drive and sense of self to work in what are predominantly seen as male fields. My coworkers are also just wonderful and always stand up for me, as I stand up for them, which has made a huge difference in my success.”
What do you see as being key to growth in the 3D printing industry as it matures?
“Accessibility. I think the more accessible the technology becomes we will see large growth. Humanity as a whole is so creative and much like a river, in that it finds a way to flow and create. The more people have access to this technology, the more creative and diverse solutions we are going to see come through.”
What do you see as the biggest challenges to diversity in the 3D printing industry?
“As with most technological and engineering based fields, it’s historically been hard to be a female. I feel that 3D printing isn’t as difficult to be a woman professional in because there are so many avenues to work in (and perhaps that’s just because I work for a very open minded company), but there will always be professionals in the world who have a hard time taking a woman as seriously as a man in this type of work. I think that stigma is the hardest thing to overcome.”
The biggest benefits to a more diverse workforce?
“Diversity can only bring benefit. The more people involved, the better a product will be because you will see it from that many more points of view. It will bring to the table new uses or drawbacks that would never have been though of before. Everyone has come into their field and their path with a unique set of experiences and ways of thinking.
Men and women do think and process in different ways which leads to new or different solutions to common issues. Working together, we also find new uses for the technology to help improve more lives and businesses.”
What advice would you have for a young woman looking to start a career in tech today?
“Be passionate and confident and take pride in your work. You will run into people who won’t take you seriously, but be serious anyway. Don’t get discouraged! Life is funny and you may find it taking you down paths you never dreamed possible; let it. You are every bit as smart as your male counterparts and you deserve to be where you are.
There is so much you have to offer, and you may have to work twice as hard to get it, but it’s worth it. As much as we may inspire you, you inspire us to keep creating.”
Umbarger’s experiences and advice show her to be a knowledgeable member of the 3D printing community, as she puts her varied skills to use with a leading name in the industry. Confidence in skills and a certain open-minded approach to life and business will take someone far, and provide great benefit as this fast-growing industry continues to broaden its horizons in terms of both technology and participation. Discuss in the Lauren Umbarger 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.
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