Jenna, could you let us know about your background and what brought you to 3D printing in the first place?
In 2010, graduated with a degree in Plastics Engineering Technology. My focus after school was injection molding, I worked as a process engineer for a custom injection molder. When my husband and I relocated to North Carolina in 2013, my initial job search was for a similar position in the industry. I learned Protolabs was opening a facility in Raleigh as they had just acquired Fineline Prototyping and wanted to expand its additive manufacturing operations there. I was intrigued, although new to the technology. I got hired on as an Applications Specialist, and the rest is history!
What was your very first experience with 3D Printing?
My first experience with 3D printing was in college. We had a course where we had to design and manufacture a matchbox car from start to finish. After our initial design was approved, we had the part printed on an FDM machine. The campus did not have a 3D printer at the time. I was shocked at how fast we got our part back, considering we were still busy designing tool paths to even cut the mold. Although the FDM part was roughly 3 times the size of our actual design, it was reassuring to get a part in hand and confirm all of our design work so quickly. Fun fact: my team won the race!
You have been working with Protolabs since 2014. Could you let us know what Protolabs is and the services the company provides?
Protolabs is a digital manufacturing source for quick-turn prototypes and on-demand production parts. We are a technology-agnostic provider meaning we use both subtractive and additive technologies to give customers a multitude of manufacturing options so that they can choose the one best suited for their particular needs. On the 3D printing side, we offer five different technologies, which include SLA, SLS, DMLS, Polyjet and Multi Jet Fusion. We have seven manufacturing facilities in the U.S. with locations in Europe in Japan also.
Could you let us know about your current position as the Additive Manufacturing Applications Supervisor?
As an Applications Specialist Supervisor, I oversee a group of 10 individuals. Our team is responsible for analyzing and quoting 3D printing projects. We are the liaison between the customer and production. Our primary focus is analyzing models to verify they will be manufacturable. We work with customers to suggest design changes if their model will not print properly. We are also available for technical discussions regarding material choice, technology, and other general questions surrounding 3D printing. We take a consultative approach with customers in order to help them choose the best additive method for their specific needs.
To date, what would you say is your greatest achievement with Protolabs?
My greatest achievement has been becoming the Applications Specialist Supervisor. I started off at the company as an applications specialist, moved to an engineering role, and now I get to lead the group I started out in. It has been extremely beneficial for my current role to know the ins and outs of my team’s responsibilities from living it.
Do you have any (fun or not) story about the company or your career to share with us?
On our website, customers have the opportunity to upload documents with their quotes. Usually, they are drawings that go with the model or further instructions for processing. One day, I opened a quote and all it said was “one 8×10 please”. Confused, I opened the document associated with the quote. It was a very nice photo of their family! I suppose the customer mistook Protolabs as “Photo” Labs. I got a good laugh out of that one.
Have you run into any challenges from being a woman in 3D Printing?
Manufacturing tends to be a male-dominated field, and I have grown used to that since my college days. I wouldn’t say it’s a challenge, but it’s funny to see the surprise on people’s faces when you say you are an engineer. It shouldn’t be a shock, but it’s not what they were expecting. I’ve also answered the phone and immediately had customers ask to speak to an engineer, I love being able to say “you are speaking to an engineer!”
Anything exciting coming up you’d like us to know about?
We’re always evaluating new technologies at Protolabs. That’s what’s nice about our tech-agnostic approach, we’re not really tied to any one method or equipment manufacturer and so adopting new tech and rolling it out to our customer base is definitely part of our long-term strategy. We’ll be in a position to roll out some new capabilities on both metal and polymer side of things. But you’ll have to stay tuned to find out about those!
What is the most impressive or impactful use of 3D printing you’ve seen so far?
I get to view a wide range of concepts; aerospace and medical have been huge players in implementing 3D printing in their applications. Aerospace, in particular, has been able to reduce weight, accelerate development time, and create complex designs typically not conceivable with traditional manufacturing. Some companies have exclusively switched to DMLS for production, as we are able to build fully functioning components.
What do you consider game-changing technologies in Additive Manufacturing?
4D printing! The fourth dimension being time. Parts can change shape post build with the impact of the environment. That is a crazy concept to me.
What makes the 3D printing industry particularly interesting for you?
It’s an accessible technology for anyone and everyone. There’s such a wide range of products and applications that can be produced with this technology. Many times you have no idea what component you are working with, but every once in a while you make a connection with a part, whether you know what product it belongs to or see it in use after the prototyping phase. That’s always a fun part of the process.
What do you think of the 3D printing industry today? And how would you like to see it evolve?
The 3D printing industry is constantly changing and growing. It is still in its infancy compared to other technologies out there. We get to live through the development of it. While this is exciting, most people do not have any formal training in 3D printing. I would like to see more education geared toward designing for additive manufacturing.
In your opinion, how could we encourage more women to become involved with 3D Printing?
I love the idea of schools having 3D printers for students to work with. It gets them excited and interested at an early age. I think more 3D printing companies need to offer job shadowing for high schoolers, especially women. They might not have any interest until they have a day in the life.
Favorite 3D tool (could be a software, machine, material…you name it)?
MicroFine Green, because of its ability to produce the finest features and tightest tolerances in the industry. It’s been custom formulated for micro-resolution stereolithography printing and is only available through Protolabs.
Favorite moment in your day job?
I really enjoy helping customers determine the best material choice and process for their project. Also, analyzing parts and seeing new and intricate 3D CAD designs every single day!