This article originates from Women In 3D Printing and is part of our effort to support the use of 3D printing technology by women. The article is re-published with permission.
Isabel Virag is the Head of Product Development for Ucreate3D. Ucreate3D provide collections of smartphone cases, combining traditional manufacturing with 3D printing. Prior to this position, Isabel used to run various 3D printers for IMDS, and previously for Mydea Technologies.
Nora Toure: Isabel, during your time at Mydea Technologies and IMDS, you operated various types of 3D printers, from FDM types to DMLS and PolyJet (similar to SLA). Was there one printer you preferred to operate compared to the others?
Isabel Virag: It would be hard to pick which machine I liked operating best without comparing their capabilities. Each process has its own set of advantages and drawbacks. Operating Production 3D Printers is different than operating small desktop printers – these massive machines have been around for a longer period of time and come equipped with expensive software that allows them to run smooth and calculate where and how your parts should be printed. Slicing, positioning and creating support structures are all automatic steps built into the machine software, not only to be able to build in the best way and as quick as possible, but also to protect these expensive machines from having any problems and requiring service. Each machine has its own set of unique steps to be able to print and maintain the printer; but in general, being able to load, position and start builds is a fairly simple process in production 3D printers.
I would say if we were comparing ease of use, cost, and color selection, I would have to pick FDM production machines, where loading materials only takes a few minutes and your parts are ready to start. Post processing can also be easy with soluble support that is removed in a solvent bath, or slightly more difficult if it uses breakaway support and it needs to be manually removed.
However, for its material capabilities and high resolution, I would pick PolyJet or SLA. Operating these machines does require more work since a lot of maintenance and troubleshooting is necessary due to the nature of the process – liquid resins can get messy, but I would say the benefits outweigh the negatives in this case.
SLS and DMLS also have those great features – high resolution and materials but less choices when it comes to color; however, in my opinion their strength and durability as well as the material selection is remarkable and color can be achieved with paint or dye after printing. Operating these machines is definitely more involved and time consuming but the results are incredible.
Nora Toure: You have a Computer Engineering degree, but never operated on any 3d printer before joining Mydea Technologies. How difficult was it to start operating the printers?
Isabel Virag: Operating 3D printers is not an exceptionally complicated process. As with anything, it takes some time and there is a learning curve. I remember that it took a few weeks when I first started to work at Mydea Technologies as an intern to fully learn how each machine worked. I did have a great team that taught me and encouraged me every step of the way – and personally, I was very eager to learn.
I do think it requires a lot of attention to detail and discipline to understand how and why every step should be followed correctly in order for the machines to run smoothly.
Nora Toure: Usually traditional manufacturing is a male-dominant industry. As a woman operating professional-grade 3D printers, have you noticed some male-female distinction, and do you think there are more women in the 3D printing manufacturing process than women in traditional manufacturing industry?
Isabel Virag: During my work experience, I have not personally come across any issues or distinctions related to my gender. I do feel that the manufacturing industry is still male-dominant and it may continue to be, but in my opinion, it can be related to personal interests and experience.
I see a lot of women that are in the design and product development areas, and fewer that are interested in getting involved with production processes. That is slowly changing with 3D printing, since manual labor is less prominent and the nature of the process is more appealing in general.
Nora Toure: Not only you have the experience of running various 3D printers, but you also have project management experience, and obviously, design experience with Ucreate3D. Is there any specific project you keep in mind and that you can talk about?
Isabel Virag: While I can’t really discuss in detail most of the design projects I’ve worked on, I can definitely say that I am passionate about product design. My experience in project management and being able to work and develop customers’ product ideas is exciting. I have worked on projects for both individuals and companies that focused on Art, Architecture, Mechanical, lifestyle products and even some very interesting medical instrumentation projects. My product development experience started at Mydea, then IMDS and now at UCreate3D – which has been my creative outlet for the past year. The work I do at UCreate3D is very engaging, I get to work on and develop new designs on fully customizable 3D printed smartphone cases that have all the benefits of being 3D printed – complex features, no tools required and individual customization – and not meant to be used as a prototype, but a fully functional consumer product that is post processed and finished a certain way to bring the best quality straight into consumers’ hands.
Nora Toure: Do you have a 3D printer yourself?
Isabel Virag: I don’t own a 3D printer (yet). Honestly, I am looking closely at every new printer that is released but I am patiently waiting for an SLA type or SLS desktop machine with capabilities that are a little closer to professional-grade machines. With a little luck, and as fast as the industry is growing, it won’t take long!
Thank you Isabel for your involvement with Women in 3D Printing!