Lieve Boeykens is the driving force behind the go-to-market strategies of Materialise innovation programs on AM quality control. Her journey at Materialise started in 1996 when the company was pioneering the use of Additive Manufacturing. She has since served the company in various positions in product and sales management, working her way to the role of Global Sales Director for the Software unit.
Today as Market Innovation Manager, Lieve holds a strategic position in the company and taps into her vast experience in sales and product management to pioneer new solutions and take AM to the next level. Lieve’s passion for exploring new markets and applications is visible in the diverse portfolio of products she has spearheaded, from the medical 3D printing software Materialise Mimics and SurgiCase to the industrial solutions Materialise Control Platform and Materialise Inspector.
Lieve holds a Master’s degree in physics as well as a degree in biomedical and clinical engineering from KU Leuven.
Lieve, could you let us know about your background and what brought you to 3D printing in the first place?
After getting my degree in physics and an additional degree in biomedical and clinical engineering techniques I landed an internship at Materialise. I had a keen interest in medical imaging but at the time I didn’t have any affinity with 3D printing and so I learned everything on-the-job. This is still very much the case today for many newcomers at Materialise. We’re really only starting to see fresh-out-of-school job applicants with dedicated 3D printing knowledge. Originally, I applied for a job as a developer but my manager told me I was way too spirited to be a developer and so I became the very first application engineer at Materialise, for the Mimics application.
Can you describe your very first experience with 3D Printing?
When I started at Materialise, I was immediately immersed in 3D Printing. The lunch breaks were always a great learning experience. We were only a small group back then, and I usually joined our CEO Fried Vancraen and Bart Van der Schueren, our CTO. I remember trying to make sense of their discussions and my ears were always buzzing from all the new terminology, like Z-Compensation.
As a software girl, my first hands-on experience was when my manager took me to the cleaning room to remove the support structures from a 3D printed object that had spent a long time in post-curing. It was an urgent delivery and it had to be shipped immediately but it was very hard to remove the supports. That was my very first experience with 3D printing and I’ll never forget it. I really believe in this kind of hands-on experiences because working on software can quickly become quite abstract and it’s important to get a better understanding of the whole process. We make sure our Application Engineers also gain experience in data-preparation, just to give them a better understanding of what our customers are experiencing.
You started working at Materialise in 1996. What have been some of the major changes in the company since then?
In my time, I have seen Materialise grow from an early start-up to a Nasdaq-listed multinational. There were less than 30 people back then, now there are almost 2,000. With scaling comes the need for more structure, planning, and communication. Also, I think we were more all-rounders in those early days. We had to be! Today, people are much more specialized, and they have to be. Still, I’m glad I have a broad background that I can build upon. Having been around for such a long time makes it easier for me to navigate within the company and to network with people. Our strongest applications and innovations are still those that build on the synergy between the different units. Materialise is not only the largest software developer in the industry, but we also host one of the largest 3D printing facilities in the world. And our manufacturing unit is a very critical and demanding user of our software as well, which is a great advantage.
3D printing has come a long way and it’s become a fast-changing industry. What hasn’t changed is the excitement about where the road ahead will lead us. It feels a bit like driving in the mist. Very exciting but also a little bit scary. So it helps to work for a company with such a strong legacy and a management style, mission and vision that has fundamentally remained unchanged since the very beginning.
As the Market Innovation Manager, where do you think the future of A.M lies for a company like Materialise?
If we look back at the past three decades of 3D printing, we can identify three stages. In the beginning, it was all about making it work. About getting the machine to actually print a design. Once we figured that out, we had to make it meaningful. Just because we can print something, doesn’t mean we should! So we started thinking about developing meaningful applications. And today, it’s all about making it worthwhile. About making it economically viable. That means increasing productivity and efficiency. And software will play a major role in that.
That said, today’s 3D-printing industry doesn’t yet offer the interoperability that industrial manufacturers are looking for. If we, as an industry, want to increase the adoption of 3D printing, we need to work together to provide more control, more choice in materials and systems and ultimately lower cost. This will require more openness.
To date, what would you say is your greatest achievement in Additive Manufacturing?
I am still very proud of the first commercialization of drill-guides for dental implants. I also developed the first business case for our 3D printed insoles. I talked earlier about meaningful applications and I believe this is the perfect example. Building on the first business case, others developed the concept into what it is today: it starts by walking or running on a scanner and ends with insoles that not only fit perfectly for your feet but even for the way you move, step and run. It’s an example of how we make data actionable. Others took my concept and built a fantastic application around it, yet I still feel proud for planting the seeds and initiating it.
Do you have any (fun or not) story about the company or your career to share with us?
The Materialise Mission Statement is to innovate product development to make the world a better and healthier place. Our mission is not just about making money, it’s about making a positive contribution. That mission has remained unchanged for nearly three decades and it makes me proud. With our medical products, we improve and sometimes save, people’s lives.
I once designed a prosthesis for an eye socket to restore the symmetry of a patient’s face. We were on a very tight deadline and it took a lot of night work to get everything finished on time. When you’re working on the face of a patient who has already endured so much, you really don’t want to do a half-baked job. Everything was delivered on time and the surgery was successful. The day after my design deadline, there was a strike in the business park where we are located and all the roads to the Materialise office were blocked. I remember getting very annoyed as I kept wondering what would have happened if the strike had been a day earlier. There were other urgent projects to work on and in the end me and some colleagues managed to enter the building by climbing a fence.
Luckily there are also plenty of fun anecdotes. I remember somewhere in the late nineties, during one of the lunch breaks I mentioned earlier, the team were discussing catchy slogans for the latest version of our Magics software. It introduced several new features, including Boolean operations, which are used to merge or cut parts. Some of our customers may remember that the icon for our Magics software was a magic hat. So half-jokingly I suggested Hocus Pocus Fix and, even more brilliant, Abraca-boolean! Before I knew it, both slogans were printed on our product brochures. What can I say? We’ve come a long way since in our product marketing – but I on the other hand still haven’t learned when to bite my tongue.
Have you run into any challenges from being a woman in 3D Printing?
I was the third woman to join Materialise and the first with a technical background. Today, nearly 40% of our workforce is female, but in terms of diversity, we score well on so many other domains too. At HQ alone, we count more than 40 nationalities. That brings a level of diversity that is absolutely enriching. The unwritten rule at Materialise has always been: simply find the right person for the job. In that respect, gender is not a relevant criterion.
I’m not a big fan of gender quotas and gender-based criteria for things like research projects, because somehow it confirms a notion of inequality. I want to be valued for what I can do, not just because I’m a woman. I’ve always had a pragmatic view of the position of women in the industry. As in everything, there are pros and cons. Is there extra scrutiny because I’m a woman? Perhaps. But I’m more than able to stand my ground and I believe we all have to prove our worth, regardless of whether you’re a man or a woman.
Sure, some clichés exist. Yes, I’m still asked who looks after my children while I’m abroad. And in a way that confirms another cliché; that men aren’t able to take care of the kids when their wives aren’t around. Which is nonsense. That said, of course, there can be a different dynamic between men and women but I believe assertiveness and humor go a long way. I’ve noticed, for example, that men tend to be more open towards women than towards other men and perhaps share or admit problems more easily with a woman. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
What makes the 3D printing industry particularly interesting for you?
Our founder and CEO Fried Vancraen describes 3D Printing as a “slow revolution”. It’s a revolutionary technology with the capability to change the way we work, live and play. But it happens slowly. It’s not an overnight transformation, and I believe that’s how the technology will evolve in the future too, with gradual improvements and continued innovation.
While the technology itself will evolve gradually, I have been a bit overwhelmed by the changes in the industry in recent years with the arrival of larger companies from the traditional 2D printing, machining or software industries. Somehow it feels like we had been operating in a small, protected and familiar micro-cosmos and the arrival of these new players has certainly shaken up the industry. Without a doubt though, the arrival of these companies is a testament to the potential of 3D printing and the increasing adoption of the technology as a complementary manufacturing technology. The combination of incumbent players such as Materialise, large new players and ambitious start-ups create a vibrant ecosystem that will fuel innovation for years to come.
What do you think of the 3D printing industry today? And how would you like to see it evolve?
When we look at manufacturing, one of the major transitions we’ve seen in 3D printing is the increasing capability to print final products, both in series production and in mass customization. As machines, materials, and software improve, we will continue to identify new and meaningful applications. One thing I’m passionate about is optimizing the machine to the application and not vice versa. To do so, we need to develop our software in such a way that it allows the machine to offer that flexibility. If you get that right, the results can be impressive!
In my recent Formnext presentation I talked about our RS Print application, which allows for the creation of dynamic, 3D printed custom footwear. Simply by optimizing our build process, we were able to double the number of 3D printed pairs of insoles in the same build volume. It’s a delicate balancing act of increasing speed without compromising quality.
In your opinion, how could we encourage more women to become involved with 3D Printing?
I would rephrase the question and ask how we can encourage more women to consider a career in engineering? There’s an opportunity to start this process in our education system. But I believe it really starts at home. My mother never told me I couldn’t do something because I was a girl, or vice versa to my brothers, for that matter. The result is that my two sisters and I are now active in the IT industry and my two brothers have a background in design. My mother has been a great role model for me. So as a parent, my advice is: don’t limit your kid’s dreams and potential based on stereotypes.
A second step is to generate interest in our industry early on. A few years ago I invited the class of my then 10-year-old son to our offices. As we toured our production facility we explained them the different technologies and the concept of designing for 3D. I was impressed with the questions they asked and after the tour, they immediately started drawing their own designs. It was a treat to see those little minds reflect on the concept of printing something in three dimensions. Last year, as part of a fundraiser for our Benin-project, I offered secondary schools an introduction to 3D printing in combination with a visit to our facilities. It’s a win-win for all and it’s something all of us can organize. A last step, which is not in our hands, is decent child care initiatives. If we want women to have successful careers, we also need to give them the bandwidth to grow. There are huge differences from country to country in the cost and the availability of child care. I used to compare the costs and I must say that in Belgium, compared to other countries, it is still quite affordable. However, I’ve seen plenty of examples of women staying home or working part-time because financially that is the better option. And yes, there are certainly exceptions but if a couple has to decide who stays at home, it will usually be the mother. Expensive childcare is not helping us forward.
Favorite 3D tool (could be a software, machine, material…you name it)? Materialise Magics RP
Favorite moment in your day job? When an informal conversation at the coffee machine leads to an exciting new idea
What’s on your 3D Printing wishlist for the next 5 years? My personal wish list includes having one of the exquisite 3D printed dresses from Modeclix in my wardrobe
Another inspiring woman you’d like us to interview? Kelly Moran (Boeing)