Ellen Lee is Technical Leader of Additive Manufacturing for Research & Advanced Engineering at Ford Motor Company, responsible for leading the development and implementation of advanced polymer additive manufacturing (AM) materials and technologies for functional use in the automotive sector.
She established Ford’s dedicated AM research program in 2014 to enable its use to drive product innovation, enhance quality, and improve efficiency and flexibility in manufacturing. In her current role, Dr. Lee advises the strategic direction for AM and its integration across the enterprise through activities including training and education, standardization and qualification, and development of AM technology roadmap for scalable production.
Nora Toure: What advice would you share with someone looking into a career in additive manufacturing in 2020?
Ellen Lee: You should consider what really excites you and drives you in additive manufacturing and focus on that aspect. Because we are at the beginning of using additive manufacturing for scaled production, there are so many challenges and interesting problems to be solved, to really delve into. So once you understand what you love, you can narrow your focus.
For example, if you are interested in things like exploring the art of the possible and developing fundamental technologies, you may want to look at a career in academia.
But if you are excited by the prospect of automation and mechantronics and getting your hands dirty putting things together, you may want to explore a small startup. You really need to look inside to see what excites you about AM because there are so many opportunities for innovation in additive manufacturing that it’s too overwhelming to address them all.
Nora Toure: When hiring, what are you looking for in a candidate?
Ellen Lee: In the beginning of our AM journey when I was starting to build up my research team, there weren’t that many people who had any hands-on experience – or any experience – in additive manufacturing. So because of the nature of the work to explore and develop these emerging technologies, I concentrated on finding people who could think critically about identifying the fundamental problems and who could effectively break down those very complex problems into manageable parts.
Something that seems like an intractable problem becomes less so by taking it step by step: if you can break it down, you can accomplish any task. That’s a skill that is very hard to teach, it’s something that is part of the way you think and the way you work. That was a key thing that I really looked for in a team member.
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