Skip to content

AM Community Conversation with Olga "Dr.O" Ivanova, Director of Technology at Mechnano

Welcome to SME’s AM Influencer Series dedicated to the passionate professionals who volunteer with SME to connect the digital thread of Additive Manufacturing - within traditional Manufacturing.

My name is Adam Penna, your host, leading customer engagement for our SME Additive Manufacturing community. My guest is Olga "Dr.O" Ivanova - Director of Technology at Mechnano - Mesa, Arizona.

As a researcher, with more than 10 years of experience in Additive Manufacturing, Dr. Ivanova has lived in two countries, attended three universities, and worked for three companies focusing on divergent technology. She credits these experiences for exposing her to different cultures, backgrounds, and technical skills. All of which has enabled her to launch her interdisciplinary work and develop a global R&D network. Her AM research and development work includes the Fused Filament Fabrication of textiles to produce military uniforms, developing radiation curable silicones for manufacturing neonatal medical devices, modifying pyrotechnic compositions for decoy flares, allowing them to be 3D printable, and much more. Dr O … welcome!

What was your first experience with Additive Manufacturing?

My additive manufacturing journey started during my postdoctoral appointment. My formal training is in chemistry of nanomaterials, with an emphasis on electrochemical transformers. It has nothing to do with additive manufacturing as you can see. When I was looking for a postdoctoral appointment, I did not want to do electrochemistry anymore. And I saw my postdoctoral appointment as an opportunity to learn a new technology or area of science, stepping out of my comfort zone so to speak. But at the same time, be a valuable addition to the team. I found the ad from Virginia tech for nanocomposites for 3D printing, and I thought nano, that’s me. What is 3D printing? I did not even know what that was. I did a lot of research, read a lot of articles, watched multiple videos about the technology, and thought wow this is cool, I want to do this. And Tom Campbell and Chris Williams from Virginia Tech brought me on board and I stuck around, I’m still here.

How has that journey to additive been for you?

It’s been great, otherwise I wouldn’t be here. You think about your postdoctoral, and again I saw it as, I want to learn something new, I want to do something different. When you do electrochemistry for 6-10 years, my master’s is in electrochemistry as well, and corrosion status, you just want to do something different, you’re sick and tired. Let me learn something new. And I think that’s what postdoctoral should be about. And frankly it was challenging. It was a completely new field and my postdoctoral experience was being thrown in the deep end and told to swim. I learn as I go, and it’s been challenging but it’s been a lot of fun.

What is the impact of AM to the broad manufacturing industry as a whole?

The way we manufacture parts has changed dramatically, as a result of advancement in additive manufacturing. It’s really hard to describe the impact of additive on the industry as a whole because additive manufacturing technologies provide numerous benefits to any industry. You think for design and performance, sustainability, separation of design and manufacturing processes, distributed and remote application, production cycle, reduction, cost reduction. Those are all factors to consider and it’s really hard to say oh it’s huge, but when you really dive deep into what the benefits are, it’s enormous. I have no words. I have no words to describe what a huge impact it is of additive manufacturing to any industry. You name it. Aerospace and defense were the first adopters. Automotive, medical, consumer products, fashion, it’s everything. As you learn what additive can do, and dive deeper, oh, but can it do that? You just go after it.

That was a project sponsored by the navy. What they were looking for was advanced performance of decoy flares. It’s a fighter jet, it has pyro tactic decoy flares when an enemy missile is targeting your jet, you check the flares and it generates a specific infrared signature, and pretty much diverts the missile towards that signature, away from the fighter jet. And what happens with current pyro tactic flares, they have one single composition as a decoy, that generates a signature when it burns. The navy was looking for, and they didn’t ask specifically to manufacture them using additive technologies, that’s what I proposed to them because I thought that’s the best thing ever. What they were looking for is to pack the flare cartridge with different compositions, that would generate different AR signatures and could be controlled in time and space while it burns. And you look at it from a perspective, what could be better to layer different materials than additive manufacturing. And you can do layer by layer, like stack different compositions like in a tube, that’s what they do with regular fireworks, but you could also do a core shell, like inside is one, and the shell is another composition so it could be burning at the same time but giving different AR signatures, etc., etc. It could be different shapes, the possibilities were endless, when you think about utilizing additive technologies, instead of packing flare like they traditionally do. Actually, they do fireworks by hand, of all things. That is tedious I think, it’s very tedious. But that’s what it’s all about. It’s about controlling in time in space, the abilities of infrared signatures, coming from different pyro tactic compositions that are loaded into the flare.

What would your advice be to manufacturers that would like to learn about implementing or adopting AM?

Read about additive manufacturing and learn as much as you can, there are a variety of resources available. SME for example hosts seminars and expert opinion series on additive manufacturing to educate on the latest trends and capabilities in the field. But I think just learning what additive is and what it can do, will give you a good jumpstart into understanding which technology suits better for your specific industry. But then it’s also keeping an open mind because I don’t think we utilize technology as much as we possibly can, we’re just scratching the surface. I think it’s all about the risk. I have this application; can I actually do additive? Can I use additive techniques for that, because again for all the benefits that additive can bring? And for me it was always, let me try this. But I’m a scientist, I just want to try cool things, like pyro tactics again. We always come back to pyro tactics because it’s a cool thing and you can actually have a big kaboom in the lab if you want to. I try to avoid that though obviously.

We can’t stress it enough. Additive is not going to replace traditional manufacturing in all cases. We can’t stress it enough. Because how many people reacted to it like ‘Oh my god I’m going to lose my job because I’m not in CNC’ or something like that. I truly believe it’s just going to work side by side with traditional manufacturing. There are good cases for additive, there are bad cases for additive. That’s any industry that’s getting in with additive needs to understand, not everything is a good case for additive manufacturing.

Coming back to experiences, 3D printing of textiles, for uniforms, when I called technical point of contact, it was the Navy project too, the Navy loves me apparently. The first question I asked was why would you ever print a uniform? It just blows my mind. Why? And you know people talk about benefits, form and fit, designed for you rather than all. And I understand that with shoes or sunglasses or something that you wear on yourself, that can generate pressure points. Helmets, I had a project on helmets as well. But when you think about clothing, a uniform, then there is a huge question: why would you do it additively? The Navy personnel, he said, ‘Do you know how many staff I involve and create in a single item of clothing?’ I’m like nope I’m not a fabrics expert, I’m not a clothing expert. But if you think about here’s raw cotton and they process it into fiber then that fiber goes into weave and then weave goes into cutting and it’s like hundreds of steps just to generate one item. But I still thought that buying a t-shirt is much cheaper than printing a t-shirt. They wanted to have a supply on the Navy ship for example, that they could actually print something like gloves, head gear, and things like that, obviously most likely not t-shirts. But uniform is a very wide term. I think for the Navy, especially for the personnel that are out there, it’s all about logistics. How to bring it on board.

How has your experience been with the SME event, RAPID + TCT?

Overall great. I enjoy attending RAPID + TCT, especially technical discussions, however in recent years it seems like the conference has become more sales focused. I think for sales information not connections, the trade show floor is the place to be, and is always a great time, and a conference should stay a conference.

What are you looking forward to at RAPID + TCT this year?

I’m looking forward to the entire event. I’m looking forward to RAPID + TCT. But in all seriousness, at the conference, learning about new developments and again, 2020 was not the greatest year for everybody. Obviously, I read about new developments but I would love to just go there and see it actually first-hand. The tradeshow and obviously seeing all the fascinating parts, networking, catching up with people I haven’t seen for a long time, developing new connections, and that’s what RAPID + TCT is all about. It’s a little bit of everything in one package.

What role do you see SME playing in the Additive Manufacturing space?

I think the role of any professional organization of society is to educate and inform through publications of journals for example, offering networking opportunities, giving the words, building public awareness. I don’t think SME is as active in promoting additive manufacturing as other groups, and I believe they could accomplish much more, but they need to be more aggressive in this space. You go on the SME website and click additive manufacturing, and there’s not that much information there about additive manufacturing, to be honest. When I say to be aggressive in this space that doesn’t mean squash the competition like AMA or any other events, but just stand on their own, and promote additive more really. SME is just huge, society of manufacturing engineers, it’s entire manufacturing space, and you’re right, additive is just a fraction of it. But as an additive manufacturing professional, I would like to see more from SME that is directed to additive manufacturing, specifically.

What do you think defines the AM community?

Honestly, I don’t think it can be clearly defined. It’s an interesting and diverse group as you said. It’s a very diverse group of people. But I do think we have a common goal: advancing additive manufacturing. I think a lot of advancements come from sharing information.

What is your advice for attracting younger generations/new workforce into AM?

I’m not convinced we have to do anything special. You just said young people are attracted to additive manufacturing. Just to give you an example, we advertised a position a few weeks back, and there were 200 applicants in a maybe two-week period, until we just closed the job. I can’t read more resumes, I'm done. I would say roughly 80% of the applicants were recent graduates, with bachelor’s degrees. Not advanced degrees, but actually young bachelors just graduated from school. And when I asked one of the applicants why he applied for the position, he said it was because he was interested in polymers, nanomaterials, and 3D printing. And maybe schools now have instructional research programs dedicated to additive manufacturing. Graduates of these programs are ready to work in the additive manufacturing industry. And when I first started, I did not enroll in any classes, or attend any short courses, I’m a chemist. In comparison to me, today’s graduates are better prepared for additive manufacturing positions than I was back then. Again, I told you, I learn as I go. But some of the first graduates, they already know at least basics of additive manufacturing technologies so one of them has worked already in a lab, or on the machines, you name it. Developing software, CAD design, etc., etc. I had zero experience period. They’re more prepared to kick-off their careers in the additive field than many of us 10 years ago or 15 years ago. It’s everything, it’s not just mechanical engineering, its design school, its art school, and those. They’re exposed to it at a much earlier stage now.

How do you see AM evolving in the next few years?

I think production is perhaps one of the most used terms when it comes to additive. Additive manufacturing for production. I think we have moved past the stage where we think about using additive manufacturing solely for prototyping purposes, we’ve passed that. I think the objective now as a community is to maintain that momentum and keep evolving. Because if we move additive manufacturing to production that shows the maturity of technology. And really to get there, truly get there, will entail advancements in all aspects of additive manufacturing technology including hardware, software, materials, entire workflow really. And we see it. We see hardware being faster, precision is better, you can build larger parts, a lot of focus on the part quality, that you’ll get good part quality right away or nearly there. And software is catching up. Especially in the past few years with so many options, you name it. It’s design, build optimization, hardware integration options in terms of software, merger of additive manufacturing and artificial intelligence, monitoring of the process, active feedback loop, and it’s just so much in the software world, especially in 18s, 19s, and 20s there was a lot of focus on the software. Materials, obviously. I’m a material scientist. I should bring that up. You will not get far if you do not improve the materials. And additive manufacturing has progressed significantly in the recent years from a materials standpoint. It’s new alloys, it's how we process them, what part quality we get, and it will continue to do so. I believe plastics will make a triumphant return, because sometimes it feels like everybody forgot there is a polymer additive out there. But I think composites will really be the focus in the coming years when it comes to polymers and resins. Frankly, applications I think will play a crucial role in really propelling the sector forward, as we discussed at the beginning. Like here is the application, can I actually use additive. And what do I need to do to apply, what do I need to change to make it happen. The pyro tactics, I need to change the application to be able to process it through additive techniques. With textiles, it was materials, and the machine had to be modified in order for it to be processed. So again, it’s everything. You have to really keep evolving in all of these aspects. Again, hardware, software, materials, workflow, everything, to actually get there, to get to production.

Anything else to add while we have you here?

I already dropped the mic two minutes ago, so I’m good. It was a pleasure, anytime!

Be Our Guest

Attend RAPID + TCT as a guest of one of our featured exhibitors and partners.