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3D Printing Spotlight On: Erica Fung, Advanced Materials and Applications Material Scientist and Engineer, HP 3D Printing

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When we say that additive manufacturing is changing the shape of global manufacturing, that’s no small claim; transforming a $12 trillion industry is a major move, and many believe that 3D printing is up to the challenge. Among the companies with a goal to lead that charge is HP, which has been making some big waves in the additive manufacturing industry as it expands Multi Jet Fusion technology, partnerships, and availability more widely, in a focused effort to scale up the business — including over to the epicenter of worldwide manufacturing, with recent entry into the Asia-Pacific region. Working with the right partners has been key to the company’s 3D printing strategy from the first, as HP executives have shared with us since the launch of MJF last year. Among the many partnerships at the heart of ongoing development are those with chemical companies as HP prioritizes innovations through its open materials platform. We’ve shared firsthand views inside their Open Materials Lab in Oregon, and recently had the opportunity to talk with a materials scientist with the company to learn more about these developments right from the source, as HP’s team continues to share insights with 3DPrint.com.

Erica Fung is an Advanced Materials & Applications Material Scientist and Engineer with HP, a position she has held since July 2014, shortly following her graduation from UCSD. She works each day with the materials being put to use in the MJF 3D printing process, with her finger on the pulse of developments — and providing a unique perspective into the industry as a young engineer with a background in chemical engineering. Her insights into HP’s operations provide a look into not just this company, but the shape of the 3D printing industry overall as we follow the growth trajectory of development, as well as its participants.

An HP 3D printer 3D printing HP logos at RAPID 2017 [Photo: Sarah Goehrke]

Fung came to 3D printing upon her full-time hiring at HP nearly three years ago, and since then she says that her “passion for 3D flourished through the inculcation of believing that 3D printing (and specifically MJF) can provide opportunities for others to develop unprecedented technologies,  overcoming difficult physics problems, and working with others who are just as passionate in actualizing an idea.”

Her work as she describes it involves designing the material recipe for upcoming products, and ensuring the successful launch of that product. She additionally programs models to accelerate materials development — for fun, mind — and experiments with creating new materials based on product combinations. Fung shares her experiences, as well as HP’s 3D printing technology, with students at her university as she enjoys giving back to her community. Fung, based in southern California, additionally shares her experiences with us as we continue to highlight the people behind the business of 3D printing.

A figure 3D printed using MJF technology as seen at HP Corvallis [Photo: Sarah Goehrke]

When did your interest in STEM subject areas begin?

“My interest began in high school chemistry and physics classes. What made those subjects so poignant for me had a lot to do with the hands-on way they were taught – taking potentially daunting scientific concepts and elucidating them in real-world ways that made them tangible to everyday life. That concept of bridging in-class education to the outside world is one of the cornerstones of STEM education, and I credit my teachers and their tremendous passion for those subjects for making those classes so memorable and sparking my lifelong fascination with physical science.”

How did you take that STEM education to apply it to the real world and land a job you’re passionate about? Did you do anything outside your formal education to prepare for a future in 3D printing?

“My STEM education is what led me to discover how much I love materials science. Like STEM education itself, materials science is an interdisciplinary field drawing from different areas like chemistry, physics, and engineering. STEM education taught me how integrated sciences are in the physical world, and how that cohesiveness can be stronger and more enlightening than any discipline alone. It gave me the base of chemical knowledge and the intellectual curiosity that landed me competitive internships in materials development, including one with HP that led to my current position. Being knowledgeable about formulating materials prepared me for my transition into 3D printing, because creating 3D materials shares the same core methodology.”

Following a college internship with HP, how did you find the move to full-time work with such a large company?

“One of the things I appreciate most about working at HP is the incredible amount of resources available to employees, especially in training and education. The move from internship to full time job was a huge leap in responsibility that required learning how to manage multiple complex projects at once. But HP is big on investing in its own, and gives access to a wide variety of classes and resources to help employees thrive and grow within the company.”

HP’s location in Corvallis, Oregon, home of its Open Materials Lab [Photo: Sarah Goehrke]

What is a typical day like for you working with the invention of new 3D materials?

“Much of my day is usually spent running experiments to determine whether designated 3D materials are meeting HP’s standards. This includes both materials produced by HP and materials produced by partners on our Open Platform for materials. If a material is not meeting standards, I investigate potential reasons why and look for solutions. In addition to laboratory work, I spend time each day sharing knowledge between sites and collaborating with suppliers to formulate new materials. When time permits, I test out new materials that I’d like to see come to fruition on the platform.”

What do you see as being key to the growth of materials innovation in 3D printing?

“For starters, materials suppliers need to invest more in the development of materials specific to 3D printers. But the real key to growth and innovation in 3D materials is collaboration, which is the guiding principle behind HP’s 3D printing business overall. 3D printing is completely transforming the $12 trillion global manufacturing industry, and that’s far too great of a task for any one company alone. Combining expertise and resources across companies is critical to the growth of 3D printing and materials innovation. On the technical front, it’s imperative that we change the prevailing mindset that a single material is limited to one set of material properties. We need to start creating 3D materials that have the capability for selectively placed variable properties within a single part.”

MJF Test Bed in the Lab [Photo: HP]

How do you see Multi Jet Fusion 3D printing impacting the future of technology?

“Multi Jet Fusion has the unique ability to accelerate development and production times, lower costs, and ultimately create entirely new markets. In terms of materials innovation, Multi Jet Fusion allows the local on-demand production of parts and tools needed to speed new product development, including new materials.”

Can you predict any major developments in the next year? Next five years?

“In the next year, HP will greatly expand its material breadth through its open materials program, which will entice more traditional chemical companies to expand into the 3D realm. In 5 years we’ll begin to see new materials involving reactive chemistries creating variable properties within a 3D part will begin to populate manufacturing.”

Did you have a mentor? Did you see this as an important factor in your growth as a professional?

“My mentor is a great teacher that helped me build the foundation of my technical knowledge, and continues to be a great role model as I further develop and grow professionally. He led our team with incredible composure, even on days when it seemed Murphy’s Law was dictating our research, and he’s guided me to become stronger in both the technical and social aspects of our field.”

As a young female working in tech, do you feel your experience has been at all substantively different from men in similar positions?

“When I first joined the HP 3D team for my internship, I could count all the women on the team on two hands. Being in a predominantly male environment was definitely uncomfortable and daunting at times. And there were few women in management positions on the technical side who could serve as models for young women interested in the field. However, HP is constantly making great strides in increasing and expanding diversity within all of its sites, which has changed our team dynamic for the better; increased the volume of new ideas by including people from diverse backgrounds, and promoted awareness and respect for people’s opinions or experiences that may differ from their own.”

What do you see as being critical to encourage girls/women to pursue education/careers in STEM areas? What advice do you have for other young women who might be interested in careers in tech?

“As the world becomes increasingly all-digital, closing the gender gap in STEM areas is critical to empowering women professionally and economically in this new era. The government should continue supporting girls’ STEM education and entry into related fields, but some of the disparity comes from a lack of female role models and enduring gender stereotypes that need to be addressed on a social level. Women in STEM fields need to return to their communities to share their experiences and passion for their fields with young women. It’s up to us who occupy these positions to show how possible it is for women to work and succeed in STEM careers, and become role models for future generations.

You can achieve anything if you put your mind to it regardless of your gender. Don’t ever let anyone stop you from pursuing your dreams!”

With a focus on the necessity of collaboration, Fung’s views echo those we have heard before from HP and its partners, further driving home the imperative nature of partnerships that many in the industry are taking note of lately.

Her journey in the 3D printing world serves as an example for the critical nature of STEM/STEAM-based education in today’s world, as well. Mentors and educators are key to the development and encouragement of skills in the next generation.

Share your thoughts in the Erica Fung 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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