Cheryl MacLeod is the global head of 3D fusion science at HP and is based in Corvallis, Oregon. Cheryl started at HP in 1997 as a product development manager and has since worked her way up to oversee the deep science behind the materials that drive HP’s business – the powders and agents that are used in 3D printing. Cheryl graduated from the University of Iowa with a Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Engineering and holds a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from UC Berkeley.
Cheryl, could you let us know about your background and what brought you to 3D printing in the first place?
I’ve been with HP for 25 years and joined the company shortly after earning my Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of California at Berkeley. Most of my career was spent in our 2D printing business in a multitude of R&D leadership roles around the world including Barcelona, San Diego, Singapore and now Corvallis, Oregon. 3D printing was appealing to me because I love working at the cutting edge, creating entirely new categories of products and introducing innovative technology into the market. 3D printing is the next big opportunity, not just for HP but for the world. It brings together my love for chemical engineering and materials with my passion for creating new innovative products.
Can you describe your very first experience with 3D Printing?
It was about 20 years ago. I was at HP’s Corvallis Oregon site and attended a local employee innovation fair. I saw a group had taken a DeskJet printer and transformed it into a 3D printer that I believe took layers of paper fiber and binded the paper fiber with fluid jetted out of the printer. This was the first time I had seen anything like this, and it may have been the first time anyone at HP designed a 3D printer. It was really just a skunkworks project that our employees created in their spare time for fun, but it also opened my eyes to what could be done in the future.
You’ve worked at HP for 25 years. Do you remember when HP started to be interested in investigating Additive Manufacturing? Was there a specific event that led to HP investing resources into building AM equipment?
We started to get serious about 3D printing for this first time in around 2010. Our Barcelona team formed a partnership with a 3D printing company for a pilot where we would resell the device as HP branded. It gave us the opportunity to test the market, start to get to know our customer base and understand what it would take for us to be successful. This pilot convinced us that we had to make a pitch to our executive staff. But we couldn’t go in with a me-too play. We had to show that we could deliver a compelling technology advantage that was truly unique in order for the company to invest in a big way. Through the hard work of team members from our Barcelona and San Diego offices, as well as HP Labs, we had our own eureka moment six months later, where we discovered the Multi Jet Fusion process and its game-changing technology advantages.
Were you involved in the decision process leading to the Multi Jet Fusion? Can you tell us more about the decision to go into a power-based process?
No, at this time I was in our 2D printing organization. While I wasn’t directly involved with the decision to go into a powder-based process, I can say that we looked at all of the different approaches and evaluated what would have the potential to become production technology, and we agreed that a powder-based process had the highest potential to perform at a level that could replace conventional manufacturing practices like injection molding. Because we address prototyping and production, having a powder-based process that could scale to meet both markets made the most sense for our business.
To date, what would you say is your greatest achievement in Additive Manufacturing?
I think it’s amazing how much HP has achieved in such a short time. We started our development efforts in 2013 and released our first Multi Jet Fusion printer in 2017. And over the past year we have met significant milestones to help our customers on the journey to digital manufacturing such as introducing a new prototyping system, a new industrial system, new materials to expand applications and markets, and a breakthrough metals technology for mass production, as well as a number of expanded partnerships and alliances with leaders in their industries such as Siemens, GKN and BASF. Given the short time we have been in the market, I think it’s remarkable how much we have been able to deliver and how fast, with the quality that HP is known for.
Have you run into any challenges from being a woman in 3D Printing?
HP really walks the talk on diversity and inclusion. Even as I was first interviewing, I noticed there were women working everywhere: in the labs, on the engineering teams, and on the product teams. This is one of the reasons that I decided to come to HP, and why I am still here, some 25 years later.
Anything exciting coming up you’d like us to know about?
We just launched our next-generation machine, the Jet Fusion 5200, which includes all of the requirements that our customers have been asking for so that they can become an industrial-grade manufacturer. As part of this, we are now offering new materials such as TPU that are ideal for flexible parts, opening up whole new classes of applications for our customers and expanding the breadth of final-parts applications.
What is the most impressive or impactful use of 3D printing you’ve seen so far?
I am really excited about SmileDirectClub, the pioneer of teledentistry and market leader in doctor-directed, remote clear aligner therapy, and how HP is powering their disruptive business model and extraordinary growth. We are collaborating with them to reinvent the $12B orthodontics segment, revolutionizing how millions of people get a straighter smile through the power of digital manufacturing. In fact, SmileDirectClub is now the largest producer of Multi Jet Fusion 3D printed parts in the country, with 49 Jet Fusion 4210 systems running 24×7, producing more than 50,000 unique mouth molds each day. That’s nearly 20 million custom parts in the next year alone! No other technology can achieve this.
What do you consider game-changing technologies in Additive Manufacturing?
I do think that Multi Jet Fusion in plastics is a game-changer. I hear it from our customers who have looked at all of the technology out there, and say that this is the first product that makes them believe that 3D printing can truly be used for real plastics parts production.
What makes the 3D printing industry particularly interesting for you?
3D printing is the next big thing for how we make products. Every time I talk to our customers I am amazed by the creativity and endless ideas that are out there, brought to life by 3D printing. The ability to bring new applications and breakthrough new products to the world that couldn’t have been created any other way, and doing it economically, is really exciting for me.
I also believe that 3D printing and digital manufacturing has the potential to address some of the world’s most significant challenges, especially in sustainability. For example, we are already seeing that bringing production closer to consumption can drive down emissions in the supply chain.
In your opinion, how could we encourage more women to become involved with 3D Printing?
I’ve seen that there are certain disciplines such as bioengineering that have a disproportional number of women in them. So as we look to recruit more women to join the 3D printing industry, we should emphasize how 3D printing is being used to make life better. By highlighting the human side of the 3D printing, more women will start to see that it’s not just cool technology, it’s about driving the next industrial revolution that will have a profound impact on society.
Favorite 3D tool or device?
I absolutely love our 580 Jet Fusion solution, the world’s first color 3D printer for functional parts, because it creates such cool colorful stuff!
Favorite moment in your day job?
When I get to talk to employees who are early in their careers about the amazing possibilities that they have ahead of them.
What’s on your 3D Printing wishlist for the next 5 years?
Hot on my wishlist are software and workflow tools that go around our printers that open up true industrial printing.
Another inspiring woman you’d like us to interview?
I’m really inspired by our partners, particularly Christina Walkosak, Rebecca Fecteau and Sylvia Monsheimer at Evonik and Kara Noack at BASF.