Breaking the mould: 

Women in additive manufacturing

The impact of additive manufacturing (AM), or 3D printing, on industrial production is nothing short of transformative. That transformation is also full of potential to reimagine processes – to reinvent manufacturing. Meet some of the women at Siemens Energy who are driving this creative reinvention.

 

By Sarah Goehrke

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Manufacturing today looks different than it did centuries or even decades ago – not just in terms of how it’s done, but also in terms of who’s doing it. Three engineers from the global Siemens Energy team gathered for a conversation on their achievements, passions and experiences at the cutting-edge of manufacturing.

The draw of additive manufacturing

A Brazilian-born materials engineer, Dr. Cynthia Wirth (Program Manager, Berlin, Germany) moved to Germany specifically to work with AM technologies for her PhD research. In 2007, she recalls, “I had to explain myself all the time about what I was doing,” as it was before terms like “additive manufacturing” were being widely used. She has extensive experience ranging from 3D-printing ceramic bone implants for bone reconstruction to metal AM for gas turbine components.

 

Cynthia is joined by Dr. Jenny Larfeldt (Senior Combustion Expert, Finspång, Sweden; and Adjunct Professor at Chalmers University of Technology) who has a background in mechanical engineering and a PhD in combustion. Jenny first heard of AM when a colleague said, “We could do anything! Don’t design it, dream it, I can do it.” While she initially thought the claims “hilarious,” actually working with the technology to redesign cooling architecture in an intricate burner provided “striking” results. Experience has now shown Jenny that AM creates “a big interest in our products and what we can achieve,” such as long-term work in hydrogen co-firing and decarbonization.

 

SJ Jones (Additive Manufacturing Application Engineer, Orlando, Florida, US) is the third woman at this virtual roundtable. She has a background in mechanical engineering, but a focus in biomechanics led SJ to discover her true technical passion: 3D printing. Having 3D-printed everything from biomechanical models for hospitals to biomedical implants to rocket engines in what’s so far been a “crazy wild ride” of a career path, SJ is working on her second master’s degree and helping to drive engineering innovation at Siemens Energy.

“How can we make the old world new again?”
Cynthia Wirth, Program Manager, at Siemens Energy in Berlin, Germany

The creativity of a new creationprocess

Each of these women has shown adaptability in bringing AM into her daily work routine, upending traditional industrial designs and capabilities. But does one inherently need to be “the creative type” to work in advanced manufacturing today? Not necessarily, they agree, – but the technology itself demands new ways of thinking, designing, and making.

 

You have to be creative with additive manufacturing,” SJ observes: “You’re doing things that just have never been done before.” To effectively drive usage in real-world environments, creativity is essentially part of the job description. As Jenny notes, creativity is “inherent when you work in an R&D department. It’s your job.” Still, “creativity” often triggers connotations with artistic expression rather than innovative manufacturing. “My first reaction [about whether I was creative] would have been ‘No! I am terrible at drawing’,” Cynthia laughs. “But when we think about R&D, you can’t stray too far from creativity. Innovation is about being creative, right?”

 

Both art and science come into play for additive manufacturing. The art of new design unbound by traditional production constraints meets the science of viability. “It’s a manufacturing technology,” Cynthia notes, “but we have enhanced degrees of freedom… How can we make the old world new again?” she asks, as AM applications like creating spare parts on-demand for original components that were manufactured the traditional way bring the two worlds together.

 

It is, SJ adds, a process to “find that fine line and beautiful balance of what’s manufacturable and the needs for the program and the need for the part that is going into production.”

“You’re doing things that just have never been done before.”
SJ Jones,  Additive Manufacturing Application Engineer at Materials Solutions - A Siemens Energy Business, in Orlando, Florida, US. 

It’s all about impact

‘Making the old world new again’ is a huge undertaking. The ultimate goal, though, is making that new world better. Long-term, real-world usage of advanced technology can create tangible steps forward: better-designed turbine components; decarbonization; more sustainable supply chains; ease of global connectivity with local, on-demand production.

 

“Working with a global company,” Jenny points out, “comes with a responsibility. Because I do believe we need to save the world, so we really need to work hard.” That mission, SJ concurs, is “way harder than saving lives,” in a reference to her and Cynthia’s previous experiences in biomedicine. It’s a big ask to be sure, saving the world; it’s one that requires small steps adding up to one major journey.

 

“I also think, especially for Siemens Energy, we are acting in a society that is filled with infrastructure and existing plants and, indeed, very costly infrastructure… So innovation has to be different,” Jenny adds. “For us, innovation is about teamwork and impact, and I think that’s something I have very much contributed to because I see the individuals and I see how they fit together in a team.”

 

As the adoption of additive manufacturing is ramping up, certain realities in the engineering workplace will have to keep up. Teamwork, collaboration, and a unified vision simply make for a streamlined, more efficient production process that can create better, more impactful products. And the teams doing it are at their best when they are composed of a variety of individuals approaching problem-solving from different angles, perspectives, and experiences.

“Working with a global company comes with a responsibility.”
Jenny Larfeldt, Professor and Senior Expert in combustion technology at Siemens Energy in Finspång, Sweden 

Diversity matters

Just as the end-to-end process of additive manufacturing requires close attention to each step along the way – a print cannot be successful without a viable design; a post-processing treatment cannot be successful without a viable print – a successful workforce relies on attention to and support for each worker.

 

Jenny and Cynthia, each mothers of two, are acutely aware of the support required for a truly successful work/life balance. SJ, a gay Black woman, is aware that she doesn’t look like ‘the typical engineer’ – but she’s just as aware of her excellence as an engineer.

 

SJ’s, Cynthia’s, and Jenny’s experiences are personal – but not necessarily unique. When most of the workforce in today’s additive manufacturing industry doesn’t look like them – data shows that most current employees across the global 3D printing workforce are white males – their perspectives as individuals (as women; LGBTQ+; POC; mothers) inherently shape their perceptions of the field and the work they do.

 

All three share the awareness of working in male-dominated areas throughout their careers: From Cynthia’s experiences as an engineering student – “we used to sit in classes with 48 guys and two women”; to Jenny’s realization that throughout her educational and work experiences she saw precious few female role models and mentors; to SJ’s experiences as the senior team member in an engineering meeting being asked to take notes instead of report on technical progress. They have many stories to tell and the simple fact is that women’s experiences in the workplace are simply not the same as their male counterparts’.

 

Enhancing the diversity of the workforce has to extend to key figures like role models, mentors, allies, and sponsors. Those supportive networks can strengthen relationships, build skills, and encourage next steps in careers.

 

Days like International Women’s Day help to highlight the accomplishments of women in the workplace. But, as Cynthia notes, “I think it would be great to start with small, ongoing initiatives – to not only have women talking on the 8th of March.”

March 3, 2021

Sarah Goehrke is an independent journalist specializing in advanced technology.  

 

Combined picture credits: Samer Dabra, Siemens Energy

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Siemens Energy is a pioneer in additive manufacturing and uses the technology for rapid prototyping, repair and manufacturing as well as providing spare parts on demand. The company has already moved into serial AM production for dedicated applications such as pre-combustion swirlers for large gas turbines. The company has dedicated AM workshops in Finspang (Sweden), Berlin (Germany) and other locations. Through its subsidiary Materials Solutions – A Siemens Energy Business, the company also delivers high-end production parts for customers in the aerospace, automotive and other high-performance industries as well as trainings and engineering services. 

     

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Siemens Energy believes inclusion and diversity creates more opportunity for success. It doesn’t matter the gender, age, ethnic background, sexual orientation, or disability - everyone has an equal part to play in energizing society.