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Six Questions With Anne Pauley, Technical Program Manager at Google

From wearable devices to consumer electronics, the technology sector is increasingly leaning on additive manufacturing (AM) to test, iterate, and refine its concepts. RAPID + TCT 2024's L.A. location will place it at the heart of this activity. Today, Silicon Valley is home to some of the world's largest technology corporations. Many of these will have a presence at the event, providing attendees with an inside look at how leading players in the space are leveraging 3D printing to accelerate their product innovation.

Anne Pauley began her AM career building open-source printers and has since held positions at companies like Meta, Autodesk, and Disney. She is currently a technical program manager at Google, where she supports system-level design for manufacturability for Google Pixel products. She recently sat down with the RAPID + TCT team to discuss her background, give her take on the industry's evolution, and share how industrial 3D printing is fueling growth in the technology sector.

Tell us about your background. How did you get into AM?

I studied mechanical engineering at Pennsylvania State University, which is a huge hub for AM. I was at university right as the open-source movement was hitting its prime, and I started exploring the technology by building printers from scratch. 

After graduate school, I moved to the Bay Area. I began working for a company called Fathom, which supported a range of Silicon Valley clients with additive applications, product development, and mechanical engineering work. 

I then moved into the "big tech" space, first working for Meta on virtual reality (VR) systems and later transitioning to Google. My current role involves collaborating with the engineering teams to improve our processes and ensure our products are assembled as efficiently as possible. We use industrial 3D printing heavily in the prototyping phase. It's an essential tool for testing our assembly processes to identify potential risk areas in final assembly.

If you were speaking with someone unfamiliar with AM, how would you describe the technology?

I usually explain additive as the opposite of subtractive. With subtractive methods such as woodworking and metalworking, we start with a block of material and remove it with tools. In additive, we take the reverse approach.

Another interesting way to think about the additive process is as a reflection of organic growth. For the most part, the systems that create our natural surroundings are additive. In AM, we replicate that, using engineering to build up materials layer by layer.

In your opinion, what are the most significant benefits of AM within the technology space?

For our team at Google, it's time. We need to get as fast and early a read as possible on whether we are following the best path from an engineering and design perspective. We primarily utilize traditional manufacturing techniques for our products, and many of these processes are highly resource-intensive. Before making end-use parts, we need to assess if our designs will work as expected. That's where additive prototyping comes in.

How is industrial 3D printing perceived within the technology sector — and how has that perception shifted over time? 

Today, industrial 3D printing is relatively ubiquitous in the technology sector. In our line of work, we need to build prototypes quickly, and AM is the best option for doing that. This has been helped by the fact that we've passed a couple of key milestones for 3D printing. The first is simple — it's much easier to get hold of a machine now than it was 10 years ago, especially if you're using polymer processes. The price point and knowledge base are such that organizations can purchase hardware and produce parts in-house.

The second hurdle was the process. For a while, AM was not predictable enough for companies to fully embrace the technology. If we're using a prototype to inform our approach, we need to know the print won't fail three times before we get the part. Having reliable processes and hardware is critical — and the technology has reached a point where it is repeatable and traceable in most prototyping scenarios.

Can you share some specific examples of how you deploy AM in your work?

There are four main applications for industrial 3D printing in the consumer product space. The first is using models and mock-ups to gather data for user experience (UX) and ergonomics. The second is prototyping to aid engineering teams in testing design and assembly.

The third application is in operations, which is my area of expertise. In my position, I use industrial 3D printing to ensure our team has a solid picture of what the product's assembly will look like. This enables us to identify any situations where parts are not fitting together well or may not be able to be assembled correctly.

Finally, AM can be used for demo prototypes. Part of developing a product is achieving alignment between teams, and 3D-printed prototypes play a vital role in helping us build consensus on design direction.

Lastly, what excites you most about the potential of industrial 3D printing?

Customization holds a lot of promise. There are some instances where AM is already used in the end product, such as custom prosthetics in healthcare. In the future, I'd like to see how these applications expand to other consumer devices, unlocking a higher level of product customization.

Anne PauleyAnne Pauley is a Technical Program Manager at Google, where she works on design for manufacturing and risk mitigation for hearable products and phones on the Google Pixel line. Throughout her career, she has worked on hardware development at Autodesk, Disney, Fathom, and Meta. She received her bachelor's and master's in mechanical engineering from Pennsylvania State University, where she specialized in AM and mechanical design.