Dr. Michaella Janse van Vuuren has excelled in multiple disciplines from her PhD in Electrical Engineering from the University of Cape Town in Computer vision and post doctorate in medical implant design at the Central University of Technology to being an internationally renowned 3D print designer, artist and an innovator in education. She has been involved in 3D printing since 2006 when completed a Post doctorate in Custom Medical Implant design at the CUT. In 2008 she founded Nomili an innovative interdisciplinary research, consulting and 3D printed product development studio. Her Chrysanthemum centrepiece was voted the Most Beautiful Object in South Africa at Design Indaba 2009. In 2012 she was the VISI emerging designer of the year and in 2014 she was named one of the City Press 100 world class South Africans. In 2017 she was honored internationally as one of the 40 Most Influential Women in 3D Printing by All3DP magazine.
Michaella, could you let us know about your background and what brought you to 3D printing in the first place?
My youth was spent immersed in fine arts, I experimented with puppetry, video installations, body art and 2D digital design. In my twenties my interests diverted and I found I wanted a deeper understanding of Engineering and technology. I was awarded my PhD in Electrical Engineering in 2004 for developing a software program to automatically detect, track and label human poses and actions in video footage. Although I loved the research, it took many years of study and writing code. I was yearning to find a way to express my artistic talents.
Can you describe your very first experience with 3D Printing?
I still remember vividly the first time I came across 3D printing. I was working in South Africa in 2005 as a digital sign language recognition researcher. I saw a picture online of an object being printed, it fascinated and excited me and I knew I had to figure out a way to work with these machines. In the following year I took up a Post Doctorate fellowship in medical implant design, the only way I could access rapid prototyping at the time in South Africa. I felt I needed a serious technical arsenal to be able to make my own digital fantasies real, what I found instead is that everything you need to learn can be found online.
Could you explain furthermore what Createneering is and the services that you are providing?
Education is still focused on the workplace needs of the Industrial revolution when we need to be preparing learners for skills needed in the fourth industrial revolution and beyond. This education challenge is generally approached from a STEM, first world perspective, focusing on computer labs and maker spaces with 3d printers and electronics. My country, South Africa, is the most unequal society in the world. Expensive technology will not reach most children in a country that struggle to provide classrooms and textbooks. The challenge is to create cost-effective, low barrier to entry courses that can introduce students to fourth industrial revolution tools and concepts. I believe an arts approach to fourth Industrial education in developing countries can make a revolutionary difference. From this idea Createneering was born, to bring my wealth of knowledge in the arts, design and engineering to education, to develop courses that introduce technology learning playfully through the arts. Encouraging students to become createneers, individuals that use technology as tools to imagine and build their own flourishing future.
To date, what would you say is your greatest achievement in Additive Manufacturing?
The Horse Marionette, a design that can only be manufactured using additive manufacturing and 3D prints with all its parts assembled. The sculpture is part of the Science Museum in London’s permanent collection. It is a proud achievement to have an artistically acclaimed piece exhibited in the science museum for being technologically cutting-edge.
Do you have any (fun or not) story about the company or your career to share with us?
When a design is finished, I email it to a local or international manufacturer. The sculptures are then built up by fusing thin layers of Nylon powder. When the print build is finished the powder is removed and the object magically emerges from the heap of deposited powder. A few days later the completed sculptures arrive at my door ready to be unpacked. This is always a very tense moment. All the planning and designing focuses on this one moment of pure joy when I hold a design that looks and functions exactly as I envisioned it.
Have you run into any challenges from being a woman in 3D Printing?
Yes I have, I am a woman with a PhD in Electrical Engineering and I have struggled since my undergrad years. Most of my additive work explores the unique possibilities of a specific AM technology and the research is expressed in an artistically pleasing manner. In engineering, and technical fields there is frequently the misconception that technical and creative expertise cannot reside in one person. I am a woman and creative, this means that although I am often the most qualified person in the room, and frequently in AM and engineering, the only woman in the room, I am overlooked.
Anything exciting coming up you’d like us to know about?
I am current working hard behind the scenes on an interior and fashion range that combine traditional and digital manufacturing methods.
What makes the 3D printing industry particularly interesting for you:
- As an engineer and entrepreneur?
My intellectual interest lies in mastering, and pushing the limits of a particular cutting edge technology and at the same time transcend the object into a work of art. Digital design and manufacturing has broken down the walls that have separated industries, I have been a jeweler, sculptor, educator, lighting, fashion, furniture, shoe designer and researcher in medical implant design. It also opens up access to markets, consider that I live in a semi-rural environment in South Africa and I only need a computer and software to digitally manufacture a large number of items any where in the world.
- As a woman?
I am a mother, and to be able to design, manufacture and do research from my home office is a privilege. I like to combine these roles, and use my children and their friends to test out ideas for Createneering courses.
What do you think of the 3D printing industry today? And how would you like to see it evolve?
The 3D printing industry is very focused on the machines, and not what is made on them. I would like the industry to be more inclusive, not just in terms of gender, but also to highlight the important role that creativity, artistic skills, and an interest in society plays in additive manufacturing. These skills, not just technological know-how, are needed in 3D Printing.
In your opinion, how could we encourage more women to become involved with 3D Printing?
I believe if there is a wider focus, not just on the technology, but what can be done with the technology in creative and social impact areas it would naturally attract more women.
Favorite 3D tool? Zbrush, Rhinoceros, VR sculpting,
Favorite moment in your day job? When I am hand drawing ideas that has to work within specific printer technology constraints and also be esthetically pleasing. There is a moment when the ideas click, “this could work”, a little flutter in my heart. Later seeing the idea printed out as I envisioned it is an adrenalin rush.
What’s on your 3D Printing wishlist for the next 5 years? Software that makes it easier to get what is in my head into digital format. There is no single software package that satisfies all my design needs, as a result I spend most of my time file fixing between programs.
VR sculpting integrated with tradition CAD software.
Lower cost materials that can compete in look and feel with traditional manufacturing.
Better integration of 2D and 3D printing software.
Color matching between fabrics and 3D prints.
Smart materials, embedded electronics and color 3D printing all in one.