Kelly Moran is a technology leader who recently left her position with Boeing in Europe, where she led the innovation development for metal technology solutions, with Additive Manufacturing as a core focus. After graduating in Product Design (Mechanical Engineering), Kelly started her career as a Mechanical Engineering Designer in the Water Industry, designing fluid flow control systems. With a life-long love of aircraft, she transitioned into Aerospace early in her career, seizing the opportunity to work on the Next Generation Composite Wing, A400m and A350 with Hyde Engineering. Towards the end of her time with Hyde Engineering, she led Hyde’s engagement with Bloodhound SSC, the UK’s Land Speed Record Car aiming to eventually travel 1000mph on the Hakskeen Pan in South Africa. This resulted in a once in a life-time Engineering Adventure when she was offered a position with Bloodhound SSC directly, where she spent a couple of years on the car’s Aero-Structures as a Senior Design Engineer. Her career in Additive Manufacturing followed, beginning with GKN Aerospace, where she focused on bridging the gap between the Technology and Engineering. Kelly is presently on sabbatical, studying a part-time law degree and volunteering.

Kelly, could you let us know about your background and your journey to Additive Manufacturing?

During my last years of school, I was determined to join the Royal Navy, sitting the Admiralty Interview Board in my final year of A-Levels. Given that no interview since has necessitated leading a group of people over a pool of water without (at some point, inevitably) falling in and completing the remainder of the tasks soaked through, my expectation of interviews thereafter was a relative anti-climax. Attending an “Acquaint Course” at Britannia Royal Naval College and a Royal Navy Sponsored Flying Award, I thought I had life figured out (I was eighteen, after all). Seems life had other ideas and circumstances derailed my “best laid plans”, steering me instead to an unexpected career in Engineering.

The roles I held immediately post-graduation focused on Engineering Design. Over the years, I am grateful to have worked alongside pockets of brilliance across Engineering Industries, with exposure to exciting innovations, on a diverse career path. A professional introduction to Additive Manufacturing came during my time in Bristol with Bloodhound SSC, when I joined an impromptu dinner with a group discussing auxetic structures and AM (thanks to Lieve Boeykens, Materialise!). It was a bright new world to me and led to my first formal foray in the field with GKN Aerospace. The potential applications for Additive Manufacturing and how the technology can positively impact lives captured my imagination. 

To date, what would you say is your greatest achievement in Additive Manufacturing?

Working towards connecting all arms of the “Industrialisation Triangle” through collaboration between the OEM, Suppliers (hardware, software and product) and the Regulating Bodies. With any one of those partners missing from the development equation in Additive Manufacturing, it is a struggle to move forward effectively and develop for production. The engagement aimed to generate replicable data for understanding a current technology baseline, as a starting point to guide future development. Through creating a baseline, it is possible to then align evolution of hardware, software and auxiliary functions in the context of developing for an application. For me, a sense of achievement (and also the challenge) stems from bringing these parties together, attempting create progress, build trust for an effective partnership and enable those pieces to fall into place.
Involvement in “Next Generation” Additive Manufacturing machines, working with developers as a representative of the OEM was also an informative experience, particularly in terms of scoping, defining functionality requirements and supporting the broader view strategy for future development. There is so much potential we have yet to identify, let alone unlock and mapping out the strategy for how those pieces fit together for optimal solutions is definitely my favourite part.

Do you have any (fun or not) story about the company or your career to share with us? 

When I turned up to interview for my first Engineering job, I set off the proximity sensors on a rather lovely Cobra kit car. The owner of said car happened to be a Manager interviewing me and he rather indignantly asked whether I knew what car I’d almost hit. As a self-confessed petrol head, of course I did, which is why I’d driven so close. My success at interview was later wholly attributed to that incident. I’m not sure how much the Manager came to regret his new hire though. Within my first week, I managed to throw a pink smoothie over my Line Manager (he was immersed), who was stood behind me as I shook the bottle without fully replacing the lid. Fortunately he saw the funny side!

In an Additive context, I was in a meeting with German, Polish and Ukrainian Engineers. Over the course of a few days we were trying to support the Ukrainian Engineers by drawing pictures, as their Technical English had a few limitations for the concepts we were covering. It was only on the last day that one of the Polish Engineers suddenly started speaking to the Ukrainian Engineers in a language they all seemed to understand. The Germans and I, a little perplexed (and wide eyed), asked whether he spoke Ukrainian. Apparently he didn’t, but there was enough commonality between their languages that they could communicate effectively. Something the Germans and I wished we had known three days earlier! Always learning.

 Have you run into any challenges from being a woman 3D Printing? 

Attributing challenges I’ve faced on a technical level in Additive Manufacturing to my gender would be unfair. Irrespective of gender, we all experience challenging behaviours, such as dealing with the colleagues who paraphrase what you have said, as though you have not said anything at all, or the one who dismisses your idea and then presents it as their own shortly thereafter. Those are just a couple of common frustrations, prevalent and thriving in a toxic culture trickling down from “the top” that most of us have faced. As Technology Leaders, we have a responsibility to create a culture built upon a solid foundation of trust that is conducive to innovation, both internally and externally.

One of the most challenging “challenges as a woman” in Engineering for me personally though was during the fight for my eventual diagnosis of Endometriosis and figuring out how to address it within my professional environment. It was relatively early in my career and working in a male dominated environment as a young, twenty something, with an agonising gynaecological condition was a huge learning curve. My Chief Engineer at the time was phenomenally supportive and rather conveniently married to a doctor, who readily armed me with information. It took approaching the problem as I would in work, by writing a power point presentation of the progression of my symptoms and their gradual erosion of my life for my GP to be take me seriously (after all, if it isn’t in PowerPoint, it isn’t happening, right?). Which is why, with Endometriosis impacting 1 in 10 women, I’d appreciate the opportunity to raise awareness, given that it doesn’t respect the closing of an office door and statistically impacts all of us, whether as a patient, partner, friend, colleague or manager.

A few surgeries later, Endometriosis is thankfully under control for me. Learning to discuss Endometriosis openly, I am extremely grateful that it brought a supportive network of colleagues over the years with their own experiences from the impact this condition has on their lives and those of countless women and the people who support them. With reference to earlier observations on culture, it is therefore vitally important for us all to be cognisant that our behaviours can directly influence how much capacity remains to someone battling the countless conditions or experiences that cannot be locked out by an office door. Through blending the best of all diverse worlds, irrespective of derivation, whether skill set, gender, nationality or other, it usually brings a fusion of healthy culture, best working practices and innovative, practical solutions, all conducive to an environment for innovation.

What makes the 3D printing industry particularly interesting for you? 

As a designer at my core, the shift in thought process, approaching a solution’s manufacture from the “outside in” to “inside out” is fascinating, particularly in consideration of creating actively functional geometries. When we design for conventional manufacturing methods, we generally think about removing material to create a geometric shape fit for purpose (“outside in”). With Additive Manufacturing, those boundaries are replaced, albeit by a different set of by process specific constraints, while allowing previously unknown design freedoms with an essentially a blank canvas/ base plate (“inside out”). The vision, to tailor microstructure for operational stress envelopes grows ever more achievable, in many respects. Combine that with potential for operation in remote geographical locations and that is a rather powerful change that could impact industry and individuals alike beyond imagination, once we have consistent, stable and replicable processes.

Working alongside this, Concurrent Engineering is a concept that we’ve fought to adopt within industry long before the label was coined and the struggle is ongoing, but with Additive Manufacturing, the approach needs to be concurrent in order to create successful builds and scale for production. It virtually “forces” Materials, Engineering and Manufacturing teams to be integrated in order to be effective. Combine this with the emergence and exploitation of I4.0 methodologies and we have the opportunity for greater control over a cleaner developed product, with full digital traceability from material source through to assembly. Executed effectively, the technology has the power to drive integration; both technically and culturally.

In light of our current situation with the Covid-19 Pandemic and the significant changes it will bring to our whole environment, Additive Manufacturing may carve an unexpected niche. The majority of early adopters have focused on return on investment and sales at the expense of relevant application and steady state, while the technology fights to generally mature. As this new world emerges, we have an opportunity to deploy Additive Manufacturing in way that other manufacturing process are largely limited. People have ‘manufactured’ face shields from the comfort of their homes, using desk top printers to support the health services globally. Though there may be cheaper and faster ways to manufacture those components, none of them currently work in someone’s living room, raising the profile of the technology existence to the average consumer. This is happening right now, a practical application that fits within our current circumstances and can be extrapolated to increasingly process relevant product development. With a naturally digitised value chain, there is the potential for Additive Manufacturing in production to have fully automated manufacturing units full of AM machines, monitored by people working predominantly from home. The key for production is process stability and though it has improved, it isn’t there yet. Once we have stability, the technologies are there to support the future, it is a case of integration or tying it all together.

What is the most impressive or impactful use of 3D printing you’ve seen so far? 

Although my experience is predominantly in Aerospace, Medical applications resonate most. The ability to customise revolutionary solutions for an individual and create a positive and enabling impact on lives that would otherwise be limited is emotive. The cost effective, custom prosthetics and reverse engineered replacement bone structures are incredible and watching that field expand and the difference it makes to those who need them restores my faith in the world. There are two cases that always come to mind when I think of this; Robert Downey Junior presenting Limbitless Solution’s 3D printed bionic Iron Man arm to a little boy and the other was a report on a twelve year old boy in China receiving an Additive Manufactured vertebra implant, following diagnosis of a tumour. There are countless other stories, but those two live with me. 

Outside of the Medical sphere and returning to objects in flight, the extensive incorporation of Additive Manufacturing on Gravity Industries’ jet suit is inspiring to see. By essentially creating ‘one-offs’ using a variety of geometries, materials and processes, that would otherwise be cost prohibitive to manufacture, the jet suit is a prime example of the technology’s enabling impact on innovation. This is keenly promoted through Gravity Industries on YouTube; where the group aims to make the technology accessible to Engineers and members of the public alike. Through the versatility of Additive Manufacturing as a prototyping tool, sustainable ideas in the initial stages of development are rapidly generated. Combine this with the immense growl of the jets and sight of the remarkable Innovator and Founder, Richard Browning, propelled by the system, even the most jaded of us watch in avid appreciation. 

The most impactful use of all though is reserved for inspiring and encouraging future generations of Engineers. Stem engagement is vital, given that Engineering literally sustains life in every respect that we incessantly take for granted; from our self rocking cradles to the excavators digging our graves and everything in between. Watching a child’s imagination captured by 3D printing and the light in their eyes, this motivates and enthuses me more than the potential of current technology application because what we are doing now, future generations should surpass us in every respect, provided today’s Engineering community ensures that they have knowledge, tools and resilience to do so.

What do you consider game-changing technologies in Additive Manufacturing?

There are some rather large gaps to fill within the current value streams. Creating a focus on improving build quality and respective replication (stability), understanding the digital flow to integrate between functions within Additive processes and innovative inspection methods, namely (but not limited to):

“Next generation machines” – increasing focus on the customer requirements for future hardware, particularly by developing understanding in how to generate replicable output quality through stabilising the process at melt, improvement of ‘as built’ surface roughness, controlling thermal variations in builds and eliminating the level of machine to machine variability we currently experience. 

Big data handling – The volume of data generated to support a fully traceable process, end to end, will need to be translated and stored in such a way that its value is not compromised for certification. For highly regulated industries, such as Aerospace and Medical, a fully traceable process is the Panacea for ultimate adoption. Relevance of any data stored, compression and filtration of “noise” within that data will also be critical in identification and maturation of effective parameter combinations supplying the optimal build. Encryption for security and extraction of these data sets will require addressing in far greater depth, particularly when evaluating for lessons learned and steering future iterations of hardware and software. There are countless avenues to develop within this field and opportunities for cross-pollination between industries, as we bridge the gap between our understanding of the current state and the ‘art of the possible’.

Simulation tools – the vision of taking a loads dataset and generating a geometry specifically for an application, tailoring the microstructure, thereby driving efficient use of material and creating feedback loops from analysed outputs of each process stage for process improvement, will continue to position integration of the various software platforms throughout the process chain. Establishing reliable simulation tools and methods is the basis of its success. 

Post Processing – (particularly surface finishing techniques and non-destructive testing) For scaled production to be viable, there needs to be a consistent product output, combined with efficient and reliable methods of inspection. Not only do we need to have product that has the same geometry and mechanical properties within tolerance every time it is produced, we also need to verify those products through a robust checking process. The industry has a period of growth ahead, to mature from single part qualification and launching applications in isolation. Working towards a statistically reliable “green light” system of qualification is required for scaled production to be feasible, the existing methods are rather limiting. 

Where do you think the industry will move to in the next 10 years?

Pandemic mentality will shape our generation’s world. We are moving to an unfamiliar place where we cannot afford barriers and must innovate to ‘adapt and overcome’. As tumultuous and daunting as this world feels, it is the perfect catalyst for new technologies to take root. As Engineers, we have the luxury of contributing towards the shape of this emerging world and enabling Additive Manufacturing as a critical provider. Hopefully, we will move to a place with stable machines and processes, producing consistently replicable output and the ability to scale up production across a variety of applications. We’ll certainly see some adopters accelerate far faster than others, market and product dependent, which should support sustainable development for manufacturing stability through demand driving supply. 

Industrial adoption will scale proportional to the processes becoming understood, more robust, affordable and the OEM’s formalisation of Specifications. Machines will aim for  increasing efficiency, integrated in an automated value chain incorporating the “game changing” areas mentioned earlier, enabling serial production. Practical use in the consumer market and use in remote geographical locations to provide customised solutions, largely to problems we didn’t even know we had, will propel the technology, while industry continues to organise itself in understanding which applications are both relevant and viable for development with Additive Manufacturing processes.

An adjustment in how we approach Intellectual Property should then naturally evolve from patenting anything possibly of relevance, to understanding what actually has commercial value and requires protection, with a focus on innovative applications and methods of process manipulation.  As this relieves some of the excessive protectionism we are seeing, greater collaboration within the supply chain should hopefully materialise for creative solutions. For many of us, this stage really cannot come soon enough, as this is the place momentum for realisation is born. 

What advice do you have for women looking to get started in 3D Printing?

Additive Manufacturing offers incredible opportunities for an exciting career in an emerging field and is by far the most inclusive Engineering environment in which I’ve worked. As a groundbreaking technology, Additive Manufacturing is an industry taking the smokey factories out of Engineering and drives towards a brilliantly clean and creative world. It allows anyone with a creative flair to print their idea and is accessible to heavy industry, chefs and artists alike.

There are some interesting ecosystems out there, so the best advice I can offer anyone looking to get started on a individual level is to ‘listen more than speak’, act with integrity and transparency and accept that there will always be people to tell you that you are wrong without having any reason other than ‘because I say so’. Resilience, adaptability and application of facts are therefore essential tools for survival. Even the best laid plans will always need adjustment in practice, so work closely with the people around you. If ever you believe your challenges may be divisive or driven by gender, think around deconstructing the walls, rather than reinforcing them. To truly thrive, build environments focused on trust; trust in each other and trust in the product.

In your opinion, how could we encourage more women to become involved with Additive Manufacturing? 

Participating in a charity event with children below the age of ten years old, I was asked to look after a table of Lego and was surprised to find that virtually all of the children coming to build (houses and cars) were girls. When the team discussed this afterwards, it was clear there is a correlation with representation and this extends to all of us ten year olds in grown up bodies. That said, positive discrimination is still a discrimination and can reinforce the divides we’re trying to overcome. It is important to attract competence, irrespective of gender. 

Additive Manufacturing is an artistically creative space, as much as it is Engineering driven, thus avoiding definition or creating stereotypes in terms of who should work with Additive Manufacturing would be helpful. Allowing it to be open to interpretation, rather than building definitive boundaries. Demonstrating representation based on promotion by merit, effective mentoring, avoiding divisive behaviours and establishing healthy, supportive and transparent cultures are not only attractive to aspiring Engineers, but will help the ratio organically adjust.

What’s on your 3D Printing wishlist for the next 5 years? Collaborate with Louis Vuitton to make fabulous 3D shoes! “Give a girl the right shoes and she will conquer the world!”

Another inspiring woman you’d like us to interview? Fatmata Barrie (Boeing) or Naomi Murray (Stryker)

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