Malika Khodja – “it is important to show local manufacturing industry the advantages of metal 3D printing and where it can be used to give them a competitive advantage”

Malika Khodja is the business development engineer at Metal Heart, the 1st and so far only commercial metal 3D printing company in South Africa. In parallel to her work at Metal Heart, she is finishing her PhD in Mechanics of Materials. She was awarded a grant from the Algerian government (MINISTRY OF HIGHER EDUCATION AND SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH) as part of the Exceptional National Programme (RESIDENTIAL FOREIGN TRAINING PROGRAM 2015-2016 (National Exceptional  Program-PNE). During her stay in South Africa thus far, Malika has co-authored 5 peer-reviewed conference papers and 1 peer-reviewed journal paper. In addition to her work at MSM at CSIR, she has received funding from the African Laser Centre (ALC) to do a simulation of Laser Shock Peening in collaboration with CSIR National Laser Centre, University of Witwatersrand and University of Djillali Liabes University in Algeria for 2017 to 2019. Her future research interests include material sciences, metal additive manufacturing, alloy development and laser materials processing. Malika is proficient with Finite Element Analysis simulation using ABAQUS software, which is of importance to validate experimental results and to assist with experimental design. This has been identified as a relative weakness in South African research capabilities and justified the awarding of ALC projects on numerical simulation in collaboration with Algerian experts. Malika wishes to contribute to the numerical simulation skills transfer to South African researchers.

Malika, could you let us know about your background and what brought you to 3D printing in the first place?

I obtained my undergraduate and Master’s degrees in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Djillali Liabes, Faculty of Technology of Sidi Bel Abbes in Algeria. My PhD project involved numerical simulation and modeling of aircraft crack repair with composite patches, which was done in Algeria. In order to validate the numerical simulations experimentally, I went to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in South Africa in 2015. I was introduced to 3D metal printing at the National Laser Centre (NLC) at the CSIR.

What was your very first experience with 3D Printing?

My 1st experience was to witness 3D printing of Ti-6Al-4V at the NLC while I was completing my research projects.

You are a Business Development Engineer for Metal Heart. Can you tell us a bit more about the company and the services and products delivered?

Metal Heart is the 1st and only commercial additive manufacturing company in South Africa. Other metal 3D printers in South Africa are situated at either universities or Science Councils. We have an SLM Solutions 280 printer at the moment, but we will receive an SLM Solutions 125 and SLM Solutions 280 Twin Laser soon. The current SLM Solutions 280 machine is used mostly for tooling applications, although we have completed some projects using Al10SiMg too. Once we receive our SLM Solutions 125 machine, it will be dedicated to titanium applications only. The main focus will be on medical implants with aerospace applications to be exploited in future.

Who are Metal Heart’s main customers you can talk about?

Metal Heart incorporates advanced technology into the manufacturing, coating and product control arena. Through accessible pricing, this facilitates the development of products and processes enabling South African companies to compete internationally in markets with the highest quality requirements. Our main customer currently is the tooling industry.

What is the scope of your mission as the Business Dev. engineer?

My main mission is to create awareness of Metal Heart as the only commercial metal 3D printing company in South Africa. Also, it is important to show the local manufacturing industry the advantages of metal 3D printing and where it can be used to give them a competitive advantage. In addition to that, my main responsibility is to establish a biomedical and aerospace titanium production line to provide a full supply chain to the clients and South African industry from concept, design to 3D printing and postprocessing to the final product.

My other focus is on research and development with universities where I mentor and co-supervise student projects regarding metal additive manufacturing. My future vision for Metal Heart is to also establish our own metallographic laboratory and mechanical testing laboratory to qualify our components in-house with ISO accreditation and FDA approvals.

Have you run into any challenges from being a woman engineer in 3D Printing?

The manufacturing industry is a traditionally male-dominated industry and as a young woman in this industry, some people tend to challenge your knowledge and practical experience.

Anything exciting coming up you’d like us to know about? 

We will be getting an SLM Solutions 125 for titanium applications, as well as an SLM Solutions 280 Twin Laser for increased productivity. We will be getting ISO accreditation for biomedical production with our SLM Solutions 125 machine. We will also be getting a wire-cutter and 5-axis CNC machine.

What is the most impressive or impactful use of 3D printing you’ve seen so far?

The Manufacturing Technology that will Change the World! The most impactful 3D printing I have seen is various medical implants and how that is contributing to change the patient’s quality of life.

What do you consider game-changing technologies in Additive Manufacturing?

The complexity of components that cannot be produced with any other manufacturing technology was a game-changer. The next game-changing technology will be to 3D print metal components faster using larger building chambers and multiple lasers. Also, the freedom of thinking “out of the box” to solve complex engineering problems and improve industry efficiency with making parts lighter.

What makes the 3D printing industry particularly interesting for you:

  • As an engineer?

3D printing gives you almost infinite possibilities to create components that allow you to use creativity and imagination.

  • As a woman?

To show that a woman can be influential in an industry 4.0 manufacturing company and Spread awareness about additive manufacturing in Africa.

What do you think of the 3D printing industry today? And how would you like to see it evolve?

3D printing is an essential part of industry 4.0. The growth from being initially used mostly for rapid prototyping to now producing functional components has been an important development, especially in various metals. I would like to see this technology evolve to be used more in developing countries, especially in Africa which is my home continent. In order for metal 3D printing to be adopted more widely, better education and exposure towards the technology is needed.  Accessibility to post-processing technologies such as hot isostatic pressing (HIP) is needed in developing countries as well.

In your opinion, how could we encourage more women to become involved with 3D Printing?

Women must be made aware that 3D printing offers an exciting career in industry 4.0. They need to be exposed to the technology before arriving at University, preferably during high school already.

And more specifically in Africa?

There are female students that are registered at South African universities who are doing post-graduate studies in additive manufacturing, so the future looks bright. Getting more women involved in my country of birth (Algeria) and the surrounding countries in North Africa is something close to my (metal) heart. This can be achieved by knowledge transfer and mentoring and awareness. I want to set up a physical metallurgical engineering laboratory in my home university in Sidi Bel Abbes and try to secure funding for a 3D metal printer to be available for academia and industry. Female students will be encouraged to utilize the equipment.


Favorite 3D tool (could be a software, machine, material…you name it)? SLM Solutions machines.

Favorite moment in your day job? Meeting new people.

What’s on your 3D Printing wishlist for the next 5 years? Hot Isostatic Press, X-Ray machine.


Thank you for reading and for sharing! 

We invite you to join Women in 3D Printing on LinkedIn and to like our Facebook page for further discussion.

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