All-Female Vehicle Builds and International Trade Anchor Women in 3D Printing Conference in Dreams and Reality


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Women in 3D Printing (Wi3DP) hosted its third annual Technology, Industry, People, Economics (TIPE) Conference and, from an attendee’s perspective, it seemed to go off without a hitch. We should have a better sense of the numbers as the event wraps up. However, it was a clear success based on the sheer number of panelists and speakers providing quality content across four tracks catering to all the world’s time zones easily.

As someone based in the U.S., I followed the primary time zone, meaning that the major keynote addresses were given at 9 am PST. These included a fireside chat between Wi3DP President Kristin Mulherin and Marisa Lago, Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade at the White House, as well as a presentation by non-profit Girl Gang Garage. These two keynotes contrasted each other well in terms of content and style.

The Role of the International Trade Administration

Lago spoke to the role of the International Trade Administration (ITA), what it does domestically and internationally, as well as how this can apply to 3D printing businesses. Relying on a network of trade specialists around the country and the world, the ITA engages with counterparts in foreign nations to attract trade, specifically in terms of exports of U.S. goods and cultivating local environments that encourage U.S. trade.

“It can be things as straightforward as addressing corruption, but we also speak with [foreign counterparts] about enhancing protection for intellectual property, having a judicial system that can resolve commercial disputes,” Lago explained. “We also engage in what we call commercial advocacy when a U.S. business is bidding on a tender by a government outside of us, and this is both the national government, but it can also be state governments, municipal governments. We will then advocate on behalf of pre-cleared US companies emphasizing the fact that by going with a U.S. bid, it is a company that benefits from our reputation for innovation and, also, for integrity and business practices.”

Interestingly, Lago noted that the trade specialists in the ITA’s network “know the formal rules, but perhaps as importantly, they know the informal rules of how business gets done in these countries around the globe.” For anyone who has studied global trade to any degree, the idea of “informal rules” of business will conjure up things like the Al-Yamamah arms deal or the Bank of Credit and Commerce International.

Nevertheless, Lago said that the ITA focuses on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), historically underserved communities, minority-owned businesses and woman-owned businesses. She went on to describe how SMEs can access the global market, such as speaking to a local US Export Assistance Center to assist in selling internationally, providing market intelligence, performing business-to-business matchmaking, and addressing trade obstacles an exporter has encountered. For businesses outside of the U.S., Lago suggested participation in the Select USA Conference, where companies and funds large and small meet economic development organizations from states and cities across the U.S., as well as governors, cabinet officials, and business leaders.

Specifically, for those in the 3D printing industry, Lago said that the ITA performs export promotion, which included an advanced manufacturing trade mission that went to Indonesia, Singapore, and Japan last October. As a result of the pandemic, the ITA also initiated virtual and hybrid trade missions, which can include business matchmaking. The ITA is also interested in working with additive experts on developing standards.

Lago’s Advice for Women in STEM

Other topics that Lago addressed were her own experiences as a woman in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). She suggested that progress in this area is slow, but that, since she first had a female boss at age 55, she has only had female bosses. Moving forward, Largo urged the following:

“Look out for the next generation of women, invite them to take a seat at the table, amplify their voices, especially if they’re being spoken over or if they’re being mansplained. Give them the stretch assignment that will give them exposure and can lead to a bigger job. And, to the extent that you’re able, be a mentor. Early on in my career, I wondered why these people that were so much more senior, were spending their time mentoring me. And, when I became a mentor, I realized it is the mentor who gets so much more out of the relationship because you’re investing in the future, you’re seeing the possibility.”

Merging a 1961 Volvo with a 2019 Volvo Hybrid

Lago’s chat provided a contrast with the next day’s keynote from members of Arizona-based Girl Gang Garage, a non-profit dedicated to educating and empowering women to participate in the trades and automotive industry through all-female vehicle builds. In addition to outlining the story of the organization, founder Bogi Lateiner, alongside members Anne Pauely and Pam Waterman, discussed one of their most recent projects, which relied heavily on 3D printing and 3D scanning, to combine the body of a 1961 Volvo PV544 with the chassis, drivetrain, and the modern electronics of a 2019 Volvo S60 hybrid. To promote TIPE ahead of the event, Pauley appeared on ASME’s AM News Live video podcast alongside myself earlier in the week.

The lively group showcased videos and photos to illustrate the impressive journey to create what came to be called the Iron Maiden. Encapsulating the challenge of this two-year build, Pauley described it as “integrating electronics and the chassis and everything from a much, much bigger vehicle into this teeny tiny little classic car body. Basically, think about squeezing a new Volvo sedan into a classic Volkswagen vehicle, and you’ll get the idea.”

Knowing that 3D printing would be integral to the project, Lateiner was connected with polymer printer manufacturer Stratasys early on. The company then tapped its southwestern distributor Phoenix Analysis and Design Technologies (PADT) to assist, with PADT Senior Application Engineer Pam Waterman learning how to use a handheld scanner essentially on-site to create a digital twin of the older vehicle and the small components from the newer one. Leveraging this scan data over the course of a week-and-a-half spent at the garage in Phoenix, Pauley was able to use her CAD expertise to transform the data into what was necessary for the build.

Using a Stratasys F370 3D printer and an Origin One, the team was able to iterate and complete a number of 3D printed parts. All components were essentially custom, with no off-the-shelf elements available for such a novel project. This included: door handles, the antenna, camera mounting and casing for the exterior and, for the interior, an entirely custom cabin air duct and a suspension adapter, among other things.

Pauley explained just how unique some of the elements were in attempting to combine the classic aesthetic of the PV544 with the modern pieces of the S60:

“For the door handles, we created this custom component that not only fit this car style-wise, but it also fit this modern mechanism and integrated the lighting and proximity sensor. The PB 5 44 didn’t have this modern door mechanism. So, we combined the S 60 door mechanism with that body. The S 60 mechanism was much, much, much bigger scale-wise than what made sense for the PB 5 44. So, we took that mechanism and took a lot of that material off. In order to create this part, Pam 3D scanned that mechanism that had been modified and there were some really, really critical snap points that had to be perfect for this handle to snap onto the vehicle and not be too tight, not be too loose, and also fit those components inside of it. So, using this 3D scan, we were able to grab those mounting points out of the CAD and really quickly, with only a couple fit checks, get that perfect snap on fit.”

3D Printing to Extend Vehicle Life

Seeing the project, I was inspired by the possibilities for the resource scarcity humanity is in the process of creating. Nearly every year since it was created in 1971, Earth Overshoot Day has seen humanity’s demand for natural resources outpace the planet’s ability to regenerate those resources at a faster rate. When it comes to two crucial ingredients for electric vehicles, lithium and cobalt, virgin supplies seem to have near dwindled. For these reasons and more, recycling and 3D printing will play increasingly important roles in reusing these scarce materials. The Iron Maiden project is a demonstrator of just how such initiatives could result in completely unique solutions to this problem.

Lateiner spoke to this issue:

“There’s a lot of energy and buzz around putting hybrid and electric platforms into older vintage vehicles. And I think the excitement there is [related to] how can we be better for our environment and yet still enjoy our love of old cars and appreciate the beauty of the artistry of old classic, vehicles without completely destroying the universe. One of the things we’re proud of on this particular build is that we used relatively little new material. The S 60 obviously was a new vehicle, but we didn’t really buy a lot of parts for it. We made what we needed. Even with the metalwork and customizing, we used as much of both of the cars as we could. We were constantly scavenging. It was very normal to hear me in the shop saying, ‘Reduce, reuse, recycle!’ as we went and pulled and scavenged things off of the S 60 or metal from the disposed part of the PV544 that we didn’t need. We were like, ‘Ooh, we need some metal for a patch. Well, can we steal this from there? We need a bracket. Can we steal this from there? Where can we take and reduce and readapt and repurpose?’

Pauley contributed:

“3D printing has a lot of potential to make an impact from a sustainability perspective on these custom automotive parts because a traditionally manufactured, custom automotive part is made using permanent tooling, which probably already was made for the original vehicle. Then, after that, it’s taking up space in a warehouse for decades potentially before somebody actually uses it [again]. And then, even after that, you have your shipping costs and your logistics costs. So 3D printing has the potential to have a sustainability impact just by reducing that warehousing and that shipping logistics.”

Girl Gang Unveils the Iron Maiden

The completed Iron Maiden. Image courtesy of Girl Gang Garage on Instagram.

The Iron Maiden was ultimately unveiled at the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) event in Las Vegas in November 2022. About it, Lateiner said:

“The idea of these all female builds came around to display on a national stage—i.e. SEMA, which is… like the Super Bowl of car shows every year in Vegas. It was an opportunity to put all of these women on that stage and say, ‘Look what we can do. Look what we can build when given the opportunity—and eliminate those questions that so many men in the industry have, like ‘Well, are they really capable? Can they really do the work?’ The Iron Maiden is the third all-female build that we’ve done and completed just this past year. Definitely the most ambitious and the most challenging…Everything on this car is custom and it really was a celebration of old and new—a celebration of where we started and where we finished and where we’re going, right? The entire project was celebrating where women have started in the industry to where they’re at now, and what we hope for them for the future.”

As rewarding as the experience was, Girl Gang Garage is taking a break from large builds, according to Lateiner. Instead, it will spend 2023 focusing on educational opportunities, potentially with assistance from Stratasys and Autodesk.

Altogether, both Lago and Girl Gang Garage served to frame the entire TIPE event by showcasing how female actors—and specifically those with a feminist mindset—are serving to drive technology, industry, people, and economics forward, in 3D printing and everywhere. As we experienced other elements of the event (to be covered in subsequent posts), these important keynotes anchored them in the astounding accomplishments of players like Lago, Lateiner, and others. These presentations highlighted just what can be done by a group like Wi3DP when driven by a crucial and inspiring mission, such as bringing diversity, equity, and inclusion to the AM industry and beyond.

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