The 3D Printing industry should take note: just as Heston Blumenthal has transformed traditional concepts of what is possible with culinary ingredients, Ultimaker’s Senior Materials Engineer Diana Garcia-Alonso is cooking up a similar storm from the company’s headquarters in Geldermalsen, the Netherlands.
Born and raised in Spain, I delved into the world of engineering when I started at the University of Malaga. Studying Industrial Engineering, I was provided with a strong multidisciplinary foundation, from mechanical engineering to electronics. It was during this experience that I was lucky enough to not once, but twice, be given the opportunity to spend a year abroad; both opportunities I simply couldn’t refuse!
As such, after a year as an exchange student at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, I began my M.Eng. research project at the Laboratory of Surface Engineering at the National Institute of Technology in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The feeling of being enriched by something new and potentially undiscovered stuck with me and is something that has certainly underpinned my professional work ever since. It was at this moment that I just knew I wanted to continue down the route of research and made the exciting decision to do a PhD in materials and processing.
With a clear focus on material processing, and a year’s experience as a researcher in powder metallurgy of aluminium alloys under my belt, my next opportunity involved a move to Ireland, to begin my PhD at Dublin City University. The EU project (NOVELSCAFF) that framed my PhD addressed a series of challenges around how to fabricate structures made of biomaterials specifically designed to aid regeneration of bone or soft tissues, by using innovative manufacturing technologies. Even though my focus was on coating technologies, I worked alongside other PhD students who were developing 3D printing projects, opening up my eyes to the potential of additive manufacturing for the first time.
Subsequently, following a brief stop in France, I made the exciting move to the Netherlands in 2010 where I held a postdoc position for 4 years at the Technical University Eindhoven, and it is here that I have stayed ever since. Having worked with different processing techniques and diverse materials for a whole host of different applications, including biomedical, energy, aeronautics, and transport, I was ready to take on a new role where I could overcome new challenges. As such, it was in 2015 that I was offered a role at Ultimaker, where for the first time I worked first hand in the 3D printing field!
Joining as Senior Materials Engineer, I was in charge of setting up and leading a team to explore new materials; understanding and optimising the print process to target applications across different industries. This has been a fascinating process for me, overseeing the introduction of new concepts into the nascent industry that is 3D printing; and it was even more exciting to be part of a company that is growing as though it’s rocket-fuelled!
I feel extremely lucky to be part of the development of these new materials and to have the ability to witness how they are having such a large impact on the industry, including those that are to come, and perhaps those that we cannot even envision at present. At its most fundamental, these new materials will significantly impact additive manufacturing and the way we view the current manufacturing landscape, opening up new minds to brand new possibilities. Things are changing, and it is exciting to be a part of that!
The expansion of the Ultimaker material portfolio has been a challenging task that my team and I have been faced with, but the most difficult challenge has been to create awareness for the importance of the print process. Indeed, the only way I can portray just how important it is for us to invest time in the print process research, is through a cooking analogy.
Food for Thought
Think of us as chefs, defining the right recipe to create the greatest culinary experience possible. The filaments are our ingredients, the hardware represents the cooking utensils, the print process is the chemistry happening to the food when you are cooking it. The knowledge and control of that print process is the real art, that distinguishes something that is edible from a great meal!
Our Ultimaker Cura software can be seen as the publishing house of a book filled with the best approved recipes that taste the best when brought together by Ultimaker’s reliable and accessible platform. Just as Heston Blumenthal works hard to push boundaries in the kitchen, our team has worked tirelessly to reach that ‘yes’ moment, bringing each component together to develop a successful print. This process enables Ultimaker to stand ahead of its competition; we have the expertise, the hardware, the Ultimaker Cura software and the materials! My team works towards setting the requirements for the other R&D departments at Ultimaker, making sure we optimise future solutions which target specific applications.
Although Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) technology has been adopted quite quickly, it hasn’t been without its battles. There is still a lot of potential in FDM 3D printing to be discovered and if we are to maximise that, it means investing in potentially expensive applications in order to really innovate and drive change on a global scale. It is important to invest in optimising materials for 3D printing, because when we do, the output of the process is further enhanced.
We are slowly seeing some exciting improvements, as businesses and chemical companies who produce feedstock materials open themselves up to these opportunities. These are great developments for my team and companies such as Ultimaker, who can offer incredible advice, on a strategic level, about materials and print processing.
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work!
As our portfolio of Ultimaker materials rapidly grows (from 3 to 10 materials in 2 years) and the print process research becomes ever more critical for future developments, it has been important for me to create a team that is diverse, with an excellent balance in gender and nationalities. This is something we have worked tirelessly on, and I am proud of what we have achieved, how far we have come, and the backing we have received from Ultimaker’s leadership team. From just myself and one other technician, we have now grown to 12 professionals (including 5 women and 6 nationalities) with a wide array of technical backgrounds. As I found throughout my career, diversity in a team is such an important part of discovery, innovation and productivity, just as chefs from different backgrounds bring their own ingredients and methods to the kitchen to drive innovation. As we strive to achieve our next goals and continue to grow as a company, I’m looking forward to putting the next steps into place to expand further.
I want to continue to build the team in an equal manner. At present the four women who work alongside me have a high degree of responsibility, which is excellent. However, this isn’t without its challenges, as we do work in a naturally male dominated industry.
The Younger Generation
Children’s abilities, capabilities and different interests are triggered at a very early stage within their development. Currently, most children’s games related to strategy and sciences are targeted towards young boys, leaving little opportunity for young girls to discover the brilliant world of science and technology. These games are failing to interest girls, segmenting them from the industry; so, it is no wonder they’re not often attracted to the world of technology! This stigma needs to be removed; children must be encouraged to play with and learn about a host of verticals, breaking down the gender stereotype barriers. As women in the field, we have a huge part to play, we must open up young girls’ minds to the possibilities of technology and engineering.
At present, 3D technology is accessible, it’s powerful and it’s evolving! But we need the help of the next generation to expand on this evolution and to enable even more possibilities. We can’t be scared to move out of our comfort zone and to say yes to new opportunities. It is this ability to immerse ourselves in new ideas and new cultures that will form our skills and spark a new way of thinking. Without stepping into the unknown and taking risks I would have never have got to where I am today, and I would never have had the opportunity to cook up a storm at Ultimaker!
Diana Garcia-Alonso of Ultimaker shares her personal story on finding her place in the 3D printing industry as part of our Spotlight on Women series focusing on diversity in additive manufacturing.
If you are interested in sharing your story, or know a woman we should get in touch with for this 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.
We are also featuring educators focusing on training and teaching 3D printing skills; see all these features here.
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