Alex Kingsbury is an engineer who consults to businesses on metal additive manufacturing, providing expert technical advice, business analysis, and commercialization strategy for businesses both locally and overseas. Formerly the Director of ‘Lab22’ at CSIRO – a metal additive manufacturing center for industry access and research and development, Alex has experience in electron beam, laser, binder jetting and kinetic deposition additive technologies. She has worked more broadly in metal technologies including additive manufacturing since 2011, and understands what it means to meaningfully connect industry to research and development activity. Together with AMTIL, a manufacturing association, Alex established a national industry network called the Additive Manufacturing Hub, a body representing the interests and concerns of additive manufacturing businesses in Australia. Alex graduated from RMIT University with a Bachelor of Engineering (Chemical) in 2007 with 1st Class Honours.
Alex, could you let us know about your background and what brought you to 3D printing in the first place?
My 3D printing journey started in metal powders. I was working at CSIRO with a team commercializing a novel metal powder process, and John Barnes who was at CSIRO at the time had the foresight and vision to bring an Arcam machine into the country – the first in the Southern hemisphere! (this claim is made a lot in Australia). Making metal powders from ore and then processing them with electron-beam technology was a story really made sense, John called it “ore to more”.
What was your very first experience with 3D Printing?
The first time I got to see a metal printer and see the parts it made was when the Arcam machine arrived in 2011. Before that, it was anything on National Geographic or the usual science shows, but nothing in person that I can recall.
Could you explain furthermore what Additive Economics is and the services that you are providing?
Additive Economics is my business, I provide consulting services in metal AM around business strategy, commercialization, intellectual property, and market analysis. I have worked with many different sizes of companies at differing stages so there is no ‘typical’ client, but generally speaking, I work with executive teams and as a technical advisor to a company board.
You worked on the Lab 22 project. Can you tell us more about it?
Lab22 is an AM center hosted by CSIRO, which is a research institute in Australia. The center had a dual purpose – to conduct world-leading research and provide training and support to local businesses looking to adopt AM technologies. It grew very quickly into a multi-function space as we started to take over more of the building! We provided co-working space, co-locating space for companies with equipment, testing facilities, post-processing capability, and a networking and seminar space. We then branched out and set up a satellite in Sydney, so it just grew and grew!
What were some of the challenges you came across when working on this program?
It’s never easy to make a space like Lab22 suit all purposes at all times. At times we’d have a foreign delegation come through and have to down tools on all confidential work, or we’d be hosting a high-profile event with media present and suddenly the team was having to turn their working spaces into a showcase space with a few hours to spare.
You are also Women in 3D Printing Melbourne ambassador. What can you tell us about Melbourne’s community? What makes it unique?
Melbourne is Australia’s cultural AND sporting capital! It has a lot going for it and it’s been rated one of the most livable cities in the world. Melbourne is very multi-cultural and we have outstanding food and coffee. The city is home to many laneways with hidden away bars and street art, and there is a great live music and performance art scene. It’s also one of the few places that you can go surfing and skiing in the same day, and is the original home of ‘Aussie Rules Football’ which is followed as closely (or more closely) than religion in Australia. As for work – Melbourne is absolutely the center of all AM activity, so if you want to work in AM then Melbourne is the place to be.
To date, what would you say is your greatest achievement in Additive Manufacturing?
There’s a lot I’m proud of, mostly relating to helping businesses get off the ground, both during my time at CSIRO and as a consultant, but probably my greatest achievement has been backing myself enough to branch out on my own. It took a lot of courage to leave a great job and venture into the unknown, but I’ve made a success of it and that is something I’m really proud of.
Do you have any (fun or not) story about the company or your career to share with us?
Because my name is gender neutral, most people that meet with me after only communicating via email assume I’m a man. I’ve had some fantastic shocked faces over the years! It’s pretty amusing. More recently I was confused with Alex Kingston (River Song from Dr Who), I was rather thrilled about that.
Have you run into any challenges from being a woman engineer in 3D Printing?
There’s something about working in a field that is very dynamic that means there is less of an entrenched status quo and for that reason, I believe there are great opportunities for women in 3D printing (as there has been for me!). However poor attitudes do exist, as they do everywhere, but they are thankfully in the minority. Whenever I hear or see something I’m not happy about I try to speak up and call it out. It’s taken me some time to find my voice on this and I’m still working through what approaches are best to use in what scenario. Ultimately I want our industry to be a welcoming and inclusive community for everyone.
Anything exciting coming up you’d like us to know about?
The most exciting thing on my radar right now is that in 2019 we started a biennial AM conference in Melbourne called Unlimit3D. We’ve been able to attract some great speakers and have intentionally put a program together around commercial use of AM technologies. We want to address some of the challenges that still remain with commercial adoption. The more we can be open with our AM technology challenges, the more the technology will progress.
What is the most impressive or impactful use of 3D printing you’ve seen so far?
As a chemical engineer, I really love Conflux Technology’s heat exchangers. As soon as I got to know additive technology I thought “this would be great for heat exchangers!” and not long after that, I met Michael Fuller (Founder of Conflux Technology) who had patented a design. The design uses computational fluid dynamics to determine optimal fluid pathways and the result is not only a very high-performance exchanger but a very cool looking one too!
What makes the 3D printing industry particularly interesting for you:
- As an engineer?
I love that AM design has brought us back to the shapes and forms that we see in nature. Entirely clever principles of mathematics, engineering, and physics exist in the world around us, and we are reminded of this when generative design tells us that the best shapes to use look a lot like the ones we find in our natural environment.
- As a woman?
The best bit about being a woman in 3D printing is participating in our global Wi3DP community and hosting our Happy Hours in Melbourne! It’s been such a joy getting to know others in the field.
What do you think of the 3D printing industry today? And how would you like to see it evolve?
Less talk, more action! Or…less marketing gloss and more substance. I’d like all the speculative investment to die down, and I’d like machines, materials, and products to live up to and exceed expectations.
In your opinion, how could we encourage more women to become involved with 3D Printing?
If she can see it, she can be it! I love the work that Wi3DP does promoting and celebrating other women in the field. It shows women that this is a community where other like-minded women have succeeded – that’s encouraging and inspiring for everyone.
Favorite 3D tool (could be a software, machine, material…you name it)? SPEE3D’s LightSPEE3D machine
Favorite moment in your day job? Connecting with other like-minded people in AM and getting to work with people who I genuinely like
What’s on your 3D Printing wishlist for the next 5 years? For Australia, in particular, I’d love to see more little innovative companies pop up like we’ve seen over the past three years.