Growing up in the Pacific NW part-time on a farm and highly involved in Girl Scouts, environmental and community stewardship became embedded values at a young age. In high school, Sarah O’Sell became interested in technology and art, and achieved international success in business through DECA. Traveling for business competitions and interviewing industry experts brought to her attention the challenges our linear systems face for achieving sustainability goals, as well as the power of design to influence decisions.
Sarah leveraged these interests to pursue a B.S. in Industrial Design and minors in UX Design and Business Administration at Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA, with the intent to launch a company for sustainable design and marketing. For two years, she co-lead a multidisciplinary team of eight specialists to develop and pitch a clean tech product, the Smart Solar Window, earning $115,000 in national grants, local research funding, and international recognition.
After graduation in 2015, she became the first Industrial Design Lead for the fashion tableware company, Rosanna Inc., in Seattle, WA, where 3D printing enabled their team to 1) improve the quality of our product pitch presentations, 2) reduce development time while increasing accuracy before ordering production molds, and 3) greatly expand their client opportunities due to the ability to rapidly develop custom, detailed pieces. Working with and traveling to visit international factories re-ignited her passion for sustainable and socially responsible design, and highlighted the key role 3D printing will play in enabling a future of helical, human and earth +positive systems. In her spare time, Sarah has explored design solutions for the home that can be 3D printed by a novice user. These prints have the following qualities; minimal finishing, flat-pack or modular assembly, easy-to-access hardware, tested, visual instructions, and are posted for free online.
In her opinion, in a world transitioning to a paradigm of common robots, AI, AR, and VR, our most important asset will be the human capacity to care, learn, and share. Sarah is now in the Bay Area pursuing roles related to sustainability and 3D printing, studying to launch a sustainable design, marketing, and production house with these values in mind.
Could you let us know about your background and what brought you into 3D printing in the first place?
3D printing is not a technology I was aware of until my first University CAD class, where it became an essential part of the prototyping process for physical products. In the engineering department, there were not many women advisors and few in my cohort. I’m grateful to have had the self-motivation and excitement to pursue the technology, and owe much of that to my mother. Thank you, Mom, for believing that women can succeed in STEM fields, enabling me to foster a passion for exploration and innovation through Girl Scouts, supporting my interest in alternative college-in-high school courses, and taking me to the library to devour all the books we could carry. We’ve had our differences over the years, but this support isn’t something that all women have growing up!
What was your very first experience with 3D Printing?
For our first CAD course at University, we were given wheels, a few connector pieces, and a challenge: work as a team to model a Lego vehicle kit that will have custom 3D printed parts at a certain material-use limit. While the school’s Stratasys printers were very limited in access at the time, I was fascinated by the quick turn-around from imagination to reality. Making accurate Lego pieces with multiple people 3D modeling was an important lesson in team communication, standardization, materials conservation, tolerances, and properties.
Could you tell us more about the main 3D printing projects you work(ed) on?
The most important realization I’ve had about visual design is that it is a universal method for communication. Just like listening to music, those who see can interpret and respond to the input of a thoughtfully-designed image. 3D printing enables rapid physical communication of scale, detail, function, and direct user experience. This was a hugely beneficial factor when integrating 3D printing into the international development process at Rosanna Inc.
Why using 3D printing for your creations? Do you integrate other technologies as well?
It is important to recognize the limits of current 3D printing processes. While excellent for representation of a form, FDM prints (I use an Ultimaker2) require finishing techniques to remove support material, smooth or seal, are not necessarily food-safe, can be temperature-sensitive, and require careful planning with test prints to work with the structure of the print grain and potential warping. Additionally, current models need advancements in error-prediction, detection, resolution, environmental controls, and greater access to trained technicians before being ready for the mass consumer or production market.
With my background in ceramics, I am interested in exploring how 3D printing can be utilized for mold making and casting processes to resolve some of these issues. When I don’t believe 3D printing can achieve certain functional, strength, or material goals, I will find alternative solutions and build connection points into the print. I apply the same ease of application rules to these materials by attempting to select widely available supplements. For example, I am currently developing a lamp that utilizes Color Cord Company hardware, with the option for makers to select their own 60W bulb.
Sustainability and knowledge sharing seem to be really important for you, how do you think 3D printing can impact these two subjects?
With the application of 3D printing as a military tool in the 1960s-70s, then corporatization for manufacturing in the 1980s-00s, it was several decades before the public began to experiment with their own DIY and DWO models. The maker movement has always maintained core values of creative commons and open-source knowledge. With the information-sharing capacity of the digital age, we saw an exponential evolution in the consumer market beginning with RepRap in 2004.
Makers tend to be scrappy, innovative thinkers. As someone who grew up making before buying, ingenuity in upcycling was important. We currently have a system of non-regenerative raw extraction of international inputs and disposal to locally polluting, mixed-material sites. Applying the maker mentality, we can intersect key materials before they reach the dump (Mike Biddle, “We Can Recycle Plastic”, TedTalk, 2011). With the possibility of mass-local supply chains for 3D printing/manufacturing centers, we can eliminate wasteful distribution channels, conserve energy, establish local jobs, and continue to support creative technology advancement.
Do you have any (fun or not) story about your career to share with us?
Mind-blowing moments can be both terrifying and exciting at the same time. There was a moment in 2016 where I realized the full weight of the responsibility designers have for creating our future realities. I will always keep that moment close as a reminder of the potential positive and negative impacts our designs have on our global neighbors.
Have you ran into any challenges from being a woman designer in 3D Printing?
There have been times that I’ve received gender-discrimination – lack of listening, questioning intelligence, qualifications to be in technology as a female, ability to use a machine, inappropriate comments on appearance or sexual advancements in professional settings, being told I should or shouldn’t do something because I am a woman, surprise when I follow-up with additional knowledge or demonstrate skills in these areas…
These are all experiences that I come prepared for when interacting with people of all genders in technology or business. It is important to enter situations with the expectation that the person you are interacting with will be professional and respectful. You have the authority to represent yourself in a tactful manner if the situation takes a turn. At a recent Women in 3D Printing panel discussion hosted by Nora Toure and Helene Andre, speakers Linda Pouliot, Justine Rembisz, and Andrea Keay recommended the following:
I always have some sort of conversation piece in an outfit. It’s an opportunity for storytelling and a lighthearted way to start a conversation. Fake it ‘till you feel it, it works!
- Data Wins
Do your due diligence researching who you are meeting and stay up to date on industry trends. Naysayers will run out of reasons to argue against your qualifications.
- Pick what is important to you and find investors that support those values
Consider that these people may be tied to you for several years or more, do they inspire you to do your best work?
- Don’t degrade yourself
Stop apologizing. I’m still working on this one.
- Can you grow and foster a strong team?
It is this community that will stand behind you and has stood behind me when situations have gone sour.
Anything exciting coming up you’d like us to know about?
I’m excited to get to know the Women in 3D Printing community! Everyone has been so welcoming and open to sharing. We’ve already had some fantastic conversations and I’m looking forward to building/joining teams for future projects… stay tuned!
What is the most impressive or impactful use of 3D printing you’ve seen so far?
Advancements in materials and application. We’re starting to see greater durability, flexibility, bio-materials for medical use, self-healing or completing bio-composites, food printers, structural integrity through parametric design, and intelligent application of materials in multi-axis and multi-material prints. I foresee that we will achieve mass-customization in these areas in the next 10yrs, and will reach many historically forgotten user-groups, including the third world, elderly, and communities affected by alternative physical conditions.
What makes the 3D printing industry particularly interesting for you:
As a designer person?
The spirit of exploring the potential of a new frontier.
As a woman?
The shared-knowledge philosophy of the 3D printing community is welcoming to people of all ages, genders, races, and cultures.
What do you consider game-changing technologies in additive manufacturing?
Printing with multi-axis robots enables us apply material anywhere. With the addition of surface recognition, placement arms, print heads, and finishing tools, we can selectively apply material to complex surfaces and embed hardware. If we print on a bed attached to a multi-axis arm, the possibilities get exciting. If we consider printing to be “the act of depositing a substance”… What happens when we distribute particles into an atmosphere that causes a reaction to create a solid? Are there ways to manipulate forms or materials with electricity?
What do you think are the main challenges for the 3D printing industry today? How would you like to see it evolve?
With advancements in robotics, it is a reality that traditionally human tasks across the manufacturing industry are being increasingly mechanized. This has caused great class conflict and is a keystone of political campaigns. With advancements in mass-customization software, it is also a reality that end users are becoming the visionaries for their own realities, relegating creatives to an intermediary role.
FastCompany recently noted that 54% of viewers “preferred a 2016 Japanese ad for Clorets gum made by a creative director versus one conceived by AI” (November 2017). As our makers and creatives are replaced with smart hardware and software technologies, we are not offering accessible opportunities for growth and transition. I would like to see a greater focus in our education system on human skills for creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, and community stewardship. These crucial skills are what enable positive-impact communication and encourage us to build systems of integrity.
In your opinion, how could we encourage more women to become involved with 3D Printing?
Female role models are pivotal for inspiring others to pursue interests and opportunities in 3D printing. We are working so hard in our own lives to establish and maintain credibility, it can be difficult to budget time for volunteer roles. For the past two years, I have volunteered as a Design Educator for the IDEA (Industrial Design, Engineering, and Architecture) program at Inglemoor High School in Kenmore, WA. To give some perspective on time commitment – this required a beginning of the year planning meeting, one day of planning with my co-lead, usually two weeks before each bi-monthly course, some back and forth email discussion with the course instructor, and a half-day off from work to teach three course periods beginning at 7am. We remained available for student advising as requested and forwarded by the instructor, usually to read and give quick feedback on portfolios, college prep, or discussion about local events the students might be interested in. I donate time to causes like this because seeing female leaders in these areas as young person had significant impact on my belief that I could pursue design as a career. Think back to who inspired you growing up – how can you be that person for your community?
Thank you for reading and for sharing!