Sarah Boisvert is the founder of the Fab Lab Hub, an MIT-based Fab Lab Network non-profit. Fab Lab Hub helps start new maker spaces, conducts workforce and entrepreneurship training in digital fabrication, and organizes the annual DigiFabCon. Additionally, Sarah co-founded the commercial division and is the current Chief 3D Printing Officer of Potomac Photonics, Inc. With over 30 years experience in the design, development, and commercialization of high technology products utilizing Digital Fabrication, Sarah has a lot of knowledge to share! You can read about it in her latest book, The New Collar Workforce: An Insider’s Guide to Making Impactful Changes to Manufacturing and Training“.

Sarah, could you let us know about your background and what brought you to 3D printing in the first place?

I co-founded the commercial division of Potomac Photonics, a laser and machine tool manufacturer that also had a contract services bureau mostly building medical devices. About 5 years ago, current President and CEO Mike Adelstein started adding other types of fabrication tools to our capabilities and we began exploring novel applications utilizing additive.

What was your very first experience with 3D Printing?

I read one of Chuck Hall’s first papers in the mid-1980’s and started thinking about using different types of lasers in stereolithography. These were gas lasers back then and I believe that 3D Printing would not have been able to make advances without solid-state lasers coming to the forefront.

You are now the Chief 3D Printing Officer at Potomac Photonics. Can you tell us a bit more about the services/products Potomac Photonics delivers and how 3D Printing is involved?

Potomac are micro-fabrication experts and we use whichever tool makes the most sense for our customers’ specific project. 3D Printing on our ProJet 3500 has been great for making molds to be used to replicate microfluidic devices. We also 3D Print fixtures and jigs, which are essential in a contract service business since each job is different and it is more efficient and cost-effective to 3D Print.

Can you tell us more about your book, “The New Collar Workforce”: What is it about?

The New Collar Workforce resulted from the research I conducted with 200 manufacturers on the skills they need for operators and technicians in the digital factory. The first half of the book describes the technologies for which employers need New Collar workers since blue collar jobs have become digital. The responses were eye-opening and pointed to all the things we do in Fab Labs. So the 2nd half of the book is about all the innovative training programs for the New Collar Workforce like Fab Lab Hub’s Digital Badges.

Why did you decide writing this book?

I was hearing huge pain from manufacturers. At RAPID when HP introduced their new production 3D Printer a few years ago, the main topic around me was “I’d love to get that HP printer, but I don’t have anyone to run it!”  I wanted to figure out what exactly we should be teaching in Fab Labs, many of which are in community colleges. I learned quite a lot from the research and it drove the development of our own programs.  With a small group of U.S. labs, Fab Lab Hub is developing a national training program that combines coursework with a hands-on project to earn a digital badge. Badges such as Design for 3D Printing and SLA Fundamentals can be combined into a Master Badge as a 3D Printer operator or 3D Printer service technician. The badges are skill specific, affordable and require less time than traditional degrees. They’re a great solution to the skills gap crises.

Let’s talk more about Fab Lab Hub, which organizes the DigiFabCon every year. How and why did you start the Fab Lab Hub? And then the DigiFabCon?

When my partners and I sold Potomac, people started asking me for help in starting a makerspace or fab lab since I had experience with all the same tools in our job shop. Since we had worked with MIT in the past, I started consulting for the international Fab Lab network based at the Center for Bits and Atoms in the Media Lab and the Fab Foundation run by Sherry Lassiter. I formed Fab Lab Hub to help U.S. labs in particular with getting started, as well as addressing sustainability issues. In order to devote my time to the New Collar workforce projects, I moved from Cambridge to Santa Fe, NM where the Digital Badge program was piloted in my two Fab Labs here.

DigiFabCon came about 6 years ago as many people were not aware of the use of 3D Printing. It has evolved into how digital fabrication is changing the world.

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

It is much easier now to work in digital fabrication technology than it was 30 years ago. At least now there ARE other women in additive! At my first laser conference in 1986, there were 10,000 and literally only 5 women. But we must use that to our advantage. Everyone in my industry knew me as I stood out among all the men. I have to say that because I was always beyond reproach in my interactions, I never had one man ever even tell me a dirty joke. My colleagues were respectful and of course, the fact I could do the math gave me credibility.

Anything exciting coming up you’d like us to know about? 

Sept. 14 & 15 Fab Lab Hub will be hosting a How to Start & Grow a Fab Lab summit in Santa Fe, NM.  

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

Potomac’s work in microfluidic devices is particularly exciting as it is making medical and environmental analysis so much faster, which saves lives. Point-of-care diagnostics, organ-on-a-chip, and other breakthrough applications are impacting healthcare right now.

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

Two things:

  1. HP’s move into the market with production machines stepped up the game for the industry.  
  2. The desktop printer move to mainstream markets with machines that are user friendly and reliable opens many opportunities

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

  • As a business person?

Despite the hype, there is a lot of genuine, new opportunities across industries and applications

  • As a woman?

There are many more women in AM than in other manufacturing technologies and it’s great to have female colleagues!

What do you think of the 3D printing industry today? And how would you like to see it evolve?

Just as in the entire product life cycle of other technologies, we are just starting to get past the early adopter stage where users are ok with having to coddle the printers to get them to work or to repair machines themselves.  

In your opinion, how could we encourage more women to become involved with 3D Printing?

We need to get the stories out about successful women using additive to do impactful work. We also have to increase emphasis on CAD skills at a young age.

Favorite 3D tool (could be a software, machine, material…you name it)? 3D PrintLife filament since they are eco-friendly

Favorite moment in your day job? Seeing young people realize their jobs using additive are fun, engaging and have an impact on the world

What’s on your 3D Printing wishlist for the next 5 years? A paradigm change in how we educate New Collar workers for jobs in manufacturing using additive

Thank you for reading and for sharing! 

We invite you to join Women in 3D Printing on LinkedIn and to like our Facebook page for further discussion.

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