As the 3D printing industry continues to grow, a major focus is falling squarely on the stuff that stuff is made from, and global chemical companies with impressive histories are becoming increasingly active in developing new materials for additive manufacturing. Lately, chemical giant BASF has been making waves in this space, bringing its century-plus of expertise to play in this growing industry, partnering with some big players in the game, including work with HP on the Multi Jet Fusion open materials platform and with Essentium Materials on the innovative creation of stronger FFF-created parts.
“Making the right partnerships are a key element in unlocking the true potential of additive manufacturing,” Kara Noack, Senior Business Development Manager – 3D Printing, BASF, told 3DPrint.com upon the announcement of the collaboration with Essentium.
Noack has been a great source of information as BASF has made stronger strategic moves into the additive manufacturing world, and I have had the pleasure of meeting her several times, including this past week at the Essentium launch party hosted as part of RAPID + TCT and in March at HP’s new Open Materials Lab. During last year’s RAPID event, Noack represented BASF as HP unveiled their 3D printing platform and introduced several partners to discuss collaborative development efforts. It was a pleasure to catch up with her recently as we continue to highlight the work of women throughout the 3D printing industry in our Spotlight on Women series, as Noack, a trained chemical engineer and experienced business leader, shares her thoughts.
Can you tell us briefly about your educational/professional background, and how you came to work at BASF and become the head of BASF’s 3D printing business in North America?
“I’m a Chemical Engineer by education and have worked in a number of industries. I came to BASF in early 2013 when my husband and I moved back to the States from Germany, where we had been for his career. I started in our 2D ink division as a Global Key Account Manager and then got very excited when I saw a posting to join the 3D Printing effort in the beginning of 2015. My official title is Senior Business Development Manager 3D Printing.”
When did you first hear about 3D printing technologies?
“A few years ago, when I was working for Horiba Instruments (Powertrain Test Equipment), I was tasked by the company to explore applying our know-how from the transportation industry to Wind Energy. We won an engineering contract with the UK government to design the world’s largest wind drivetrain test system and our chief engineer thought it would be really cool to have a 3D print of our design. It was cool. I remember our marketing staff had jazzed it up even further by gluing little people around it. Thinking back to what it looked like, I think it must have been PA by SLS. I remember it was shockingly expensive and I was very nervous to carry it around. There might have been some minor injuries to it in its tour ☺.”
Having been working closely with HP on the materials end, what are your thoughts about collaboration in the industry?
“I’m very encouraged that more and more 3D printing equipment companies are adopting open platforms. BASF truly believes that this is necessary to accelerate and improve materials innovation and drive adoption at the end-users for applying 3DP technologies to production.”
You’ve said before that BASF hadn’t been especially interested in using 3D printing for prototyping, but became more involved when production came to the fore with HP’s MJF technology; where do you foresee the biggest impacts among applications taking place?
“Let me clarify that statement. BASF is actually quite interested in functional prototyping where there is a need for higher value materials. We perceive this as a stepping stone to production opportunities. There are a number of players across industries that have it in their strategy for mass adoption of 3D Printing for production. In general terms, I think the application sweet spots will be in markets where customization or short life cycles are prominent, and for the avoidance of tooling.”
You also noted that, “At BASF we feel an open materials market is the only way for additive manufacturing to really explode,” when speaking at the HP lab in Corvallis last month; why are open materials so key to the industry?
“For end users to adopt 3D Printing in true manufacturing volumes, a number of improvements need to happen with materials: Performance, variety to meet application needs, affordability, and sourcing flexibility. BASF is extremely well suited to address these areas since we have the know-how about the application requirements from our engagement on traditional manufacturing with our products. When we have access to develop our materials on a printing technology and direct access to the end user who is driving the needs requirements, an efficiency is developed to make these improvements and drive the needed economies of scale.”
What are your general observations regarding diversity in the 3D printing industry? How do you feel women are represented?
“I’m excited to be working for a company that truly believes in the power of diversity and inclusion. In the 3D printing industry, I think we have good diversity in terms of backgrounds and experiences, but perhaps we have a good way to go with gender diversity. Nonetheless, there are certainly some good signs. At the recent AMUG conference, there were some examples of women represented in a number of encouraging ways – Carbon’s Dana McCallum having served a number of terms as VP of AMUG, Caterpillar’s Stacey Delvecchio giving one of the keynote speeches, and Layered Manufacturing and Consulting’s Shannon VanDeren winning a DINO award. Being an engineer by education and having worked in the automotive industry for a large part of my career, I’m used to being in the minority but I’m a little surprised that there aren’t more women yet in this field.”
As an experienced leader in the tech field, do you feel your overall experience has been in any notable ways substantively different from those of men in similar positions?
“I’ve been fortunate in my career to be supported by my peers, management, and industry contacts whether they are male or female. Of course there can be the occasional annoyances but those don’t stand out as my overall experience. I do think I’ve benefited from having exceptional listening skills and perception that has made me very customer-focused. It also doesn’t hurt to stand out a little from the crowd of men for memorability but I’ll gladly become a part of a crowd of women.”
Women are appearing more frequently on panels at 3D printing-focused events; how do you see this upward trend affecting industry participation?
“I think this is great for encouragement and exposure and I would love to increase my role in these activities. The more visibility we can get, the more likely it is for other women to join.”
What do you see as the biggest challenges to diversity in the 3D printing industry? The biggest benefits to a more diverse workforce?
“I think it starts with the problem of getting and keeping girls/women excited about science and math in school. Many industries will benefit when this is achieved. A diverse workforce encourages new and better-vetted ideas as they will come from a variety of perspectives. It capitalizes on many different strength areas. Addressing problems from different perspectives, backgrounds and ways of thinking can help bring more creative solutions.”
What advice would you have for a young woman looking to start a career in tech today?
“Absolutely do it. The needs for these kinds of skill sets are far outpacing most other fields and will be very important for the U.S. to be globally competitive. There is a lot of flexibility in what you can do with a technical background too. I went into Chemical Engineering not really knowing what kind of career I wanted to pursue at the time. As I entered the workforce, I realized the multitude of paths I could take was staggering. Ultimately, I decided on a commercial path with a technology focus and an attraction towards emerging markets… but the sky is the limit.”
As BASF collaborates alongside innovative companies in 3D printing, we’re sure to hear more about materials development as Noack and the dedicated 3D printing team at the chemical company continue their work and research. It seems likely as well we will hear more from Noack in the future as she increases her presence at industry events alongside other powerhouse women participating in panels, presentations, and announcements.
Share your thoughts in the Kara Noack 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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