Chantelle Sims came to engineering late in life, enrolling in Portland Community College’s Civil/Mechanical Engineering Technology (CMET) program as a 43 year old. She graduated in 2014 with High Honors, receiving her AAS in Mechanical Engineering Technology and started her career at NW Rapid Mfg, a small, woman-owned boutique Additive Manufacturing service bureau in McMinnville, Oregon.
Experts in the manufacture of aerospace production parts for the UAS (drone) industry, NW Rapid Mfg is known for its success with laser sintering thin-walled nylon parts with structural integrity. As one of NW Rapid Mfg’s two Project Engineers, Chantelle focuses on customer service and client education. She enjoys presenting and writing on Women in STEM, Additive Manufacturing, and 3D Printing.
Chantelle, could you let us know about your background and what brought you into 3D printing in the first place?
My background is highly varied: I have been a fashion model, director of an equestrian program at a school for “troubled girls”, a medical assistant, and a production coordinator for a commercial and editorial photographer. At the tender age of 43 I went back to school, choosing Mechanical Engineering Technology because it was a 2-year degree and there were jobs with starting salaries that would support me and my daughters.
I “chicked” my way into 3D printing – literally- getting an interview simply because I am a woman. My company, NW Rapid Manufacturing, is woman-owned and there was a desire to have more women in the office.
What was your very first experience with 3D Printing?
We had a Makers Space at Portland Community College, where I got my AAS. I spent many hours working with the FDM printers for school projects. Honestly, I was not impressed at the time.
Could you explain furthermore what NW Rapid Manufacturing is and the services that you are providing?
NW Rapid Mfg is a woman-owned Selective Laser Sintering service bureau located in Oregon’s Wine County. We specialize in nylon production parts for the Unmanned Aerial Systems market, but also have deep industry experience with prototyping, aerospace, race car, and entertainment AM parts.
Could you tell us more about your role in the company and the projects you work(ed) on?
As a Project Engineer, I focus on expediting and coordinating the projects as they work their way through our facility. I am also a back up to our Sales Engineer, Ken, and I work with the marketing team to generate content. I do a fair amount of client education and outreach, as well, which is my favorite “hat” to wear.
What differentiates NW Rapid Manufacturing from other 3D printing companies?
NW Rapid Mfg was created specifically to service the UAS/UAV industry, and the owners put in years of personal R & D to figure out how to produce thin-walled parts without compromising structural integrity. We do not run our machines on the “factory settings” and as a result, our parts are known to be of a finer quality than most, even when reproduced by the thousands.
We are a high customer-touch bureau; we look at every file that comes in and all quotes are done by hand by one of our engineers. This allows us to leverage the space in the machines to provide lower costing, reflect back to the client any potential issues in producing the part, and to make any suggestions to improve the end result.
Do you have any (fun or not) story about your career to share with us?
I posted this photo on a social media site, captioned, “Look! I’m 3D Printing men!” and my girlfriend in Alaska ordered 3.
Have you run into any challenges from being a woman engineer in 3D Printing?
No challenges, per see, but I answer the phone most often, and I am frequently mistaken for a receptionist. Occasionally, the (male) caller will ask for a “real” engineer or “someone who knows more about the materials and process” when I tell them I can answer their questions. If I’m feeling salty, I will place them on hold and then pick up the phone again a minute later.
Anything exciting coming up you’d like us to know about?
We’re shopping for a new machine, which has been a process. There’s not that many players in the commercial SLS market. Combing through the advantages and disadvantages of each company has been educational.
On a completely different note, this June I’m walking in a fashion show called, “Paint the Runway Purple” for the designer who made my wedding ensemble.
This is me and my husband, Aaron, on our wedding day this past September:
What is the most impressive or impactfull use of 3D printing you’ve seen so far?
My husband has a kidney transplant, and there is a shortened life expectancy on that kidney. I am very hopeful about the emergence of bio-printing organs for patients like my husband and printing skin for burn victims.
What makes the 3D printing industry particularly interesting for you:
As an engineer?
I’ve only been an engineer in this field, so I can’t compare it to anything else, but I enjoy being involved with a disruptive technology.
As a woman?
I find, presumably because it’s still a fairly new technology- and a lot of younger people are involved- most people are willing to accept me as knowledgeable in my field.
What do you consider game-changing technologies in additive?
Bio-materials and the ability to insert object into prints during the printing process.
What do you think of the 3D printing industry today? And how would you like to see it evolve?
I think it’s like any other “new” or “disruptive” technology in that the market is flooded with start ups and new product offerings and eventually there will be a few highly successful players making quality parts at reasonable prices.
In your opinion, how could we encourage more women to become involved with 3D Printing?
I think introducing kids to 3D Printing through hands-on learning is a good place to start. And making sure to allow girls to make items that are of interest to THEM. I also believe it’s critical for young women to meet and hear from female engineers who are working in the industry, so they can begin to imagine themselves in a similar career. Female-only mentorship programs could be of great benefit as well.
Thank you for reading and for sharing!