Dr. Tracy Albers is the President and CTO of Rapid Prototype and Manufacturing LLC, (rp+m) a technology company focused on the production applications of additive manufacturing in the aerospace, automotive, energy and consumer markets. Dr. Albers oversees the development and execution of rp+m’s sustainable growth strategies, which focuses on new and unique innovations in the additive manufacturing of metals, semi-metals, ceramics and polymers.
Dr. Albers has nearly a decade of experience in the manufacturing industry as Director of Research and Development for a $1.5B global materials company. During that time, Tracy directed R&D and commercialization efforts for two business units, the first focused on new materials for the carbon fiber composites industry and the second focused on advanced materials for energy storage applications. Dr. Albers also led multiple initiatives that were strategically partnered with multiple National Laboratories, including Oak Ridge National Labs, where she served on the Board of Directors for the lab’s former Carbon Fiber Composites Consortium. She has also worked with multiple technology-based non-profit organizations, including local academic institutions. Dr. Albers received her PhD degree in Physical Chemistry from the University of Pittsburgh and two BS degrees in Chemistry and Exercise Physiology from Baldwin-Wallace College. Dr. Albers was recently recognized as a leader for women in manufacturing, receiving a STEP Award from the Manufacturing Institute in February 2013. In 2015, Dr. Albers was recognized by Crain’s Cleveland Business in their series “Who to Watch: Manufacturing”.
Tracy, could you let us know about your background and what brought you into 3D printing in the first place?
When I left my last job as Director of Research and Development for a large materials company, I was looking for an opportunity to utilize not only my technical skills, but also an opportunity to gain business leadership experience.
I’ve always been interested in the crux of product development turning into sustainable business, and my entrance into the 3D printing world over two years ago has satisfied that need. In my current role, I am able to exercise my technical leadership skills as well as lead the overall business, which has been really exciting for me.
From an educational standpoint, I have a PhD in physical chemistry and a BS in chemistry and exercise physiology – admittedly an odd combination. As a college student, I really wanted to go into sports medicine or physical therapy. A summer internship in the field quickly had me rethinking that career and reconsidering pursuit of an additional degree in the hard sciences. As a PhD student, I thought I wanted to be a professor – until I ended up with a few semesters with heavy teaching loads, and then realized that this too, was probably not for me, at least at that stage. Thankfully, I started my career working for a manufacturing company and it was a great fit. I haven’t looked back since!
What was your very first experience with 3D Printing?
At my previous job, the CEO handed me an article on how 3D printing was going to revolutionize manufacturing and asked me to define a strategy for the Company. I knew the basics, but had no idea of the technology’s scope and capabilities. I developed a plan, put it through StageGate and then partnered with an organization that could help. That organization was rp+m…and here I am, almost three years later.
You are the President and CTO of rp+m, could you explain furthermore what rp+m is and the services that you are providing?
At rp+m, our mission is to combine our extensive expertise in additive manufacturing with a dedicated production environment that provides customers with the right solution for their manufacturing needs. Our complete contract manufacturing service follows an accredited quality process, so we can help with the initial stages of design, all the way to printing of the final production part.
You have nearly a decade of experience in the manufacturing industry, could you tell us more about the projects and programs you worked on?
I spent the longest portion of my career working on technology development projects in the carbon fiber composites and energy storage markets. I have a strong materials background, and because the additive manufacturing industry needs to spend more time understanding material behaviors in additive platforms, it’s a good fit.
What do you think of the 3D printing industry in general today?
Like any young industry, the world of 3D printing is still determining what it wants to be when it grows up. For a while, the community adopted the prototyping and quick product development opportunity as the “end game.” Then the market demanded more. Additive manufacturing OEM’s are starting to make adjustments to enable real production manufacturing, but that will take time. In my opinion, that’s the only way for the industry to stabilize and grow sustainably.
In your opinion, what are the main challenges 3D Printing needs to overcome within the next 10 years? How would you like to see it evolve?
This is an easy one: process control, repeatability and standardization. These are not optional, mind you – these are “must haves” to enable production applications.
Have you ran into any challenges from being a woman entrepreneur in 3D Printing?
In my opinion, a leader is a leader. A problem solver is a problem solver. The challenges I face as an individual are just that – things to overcome. I’m a good scientist – I have reasonably developed problem solving skills and I communicate fairly well. I believe I’m successful for those reasons – not because (or despite that) I also happen to be female.
Anything exciting coming up you’d like us to know about?
At rp+m we are leading a major initiative (funded by America Makes) to generate a material database to qualify ULTEM 9085™ using fused deposition modeling (FDM) for aerospace applications. This major project will be the first of its kind to prove process control and repeatability for an additive process. We are currently about 50% of the way through the project and hope to share more about it and the results over the next few months.
What makes the 3D printing industry particularly interesting for you?
I came from an industry where market cycles were highly predictable, so the world of additive manufacturing offers a completely different pace. This industry changes daily. Companies are acquired, opened and closed, partnerships emerge regularly…it’s a challenging field to keep a firm grasp on, but one that I find particularly exciting.
In your opinion, how could we encourage more women to become involved with 3D Printing?
Be present. Lead by example. Tell your story. Show young students – male or female – that careers in manufacturing are real and can offer an exceptional career experience.
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