Women in Engineering: 3D Printing


This year’s theme for National Women in Engineering Day is #RaisingProfiles and we’re supporting the cause by exploring some of the exciting engineering careers available, as well as the females excelling within them.

Interest in 3D printing continues to grow rapidly, and the demand for related skills is increasing with it. In this post we delve into the industry and some of the women putting their stamp on it.

What is 3D printing?

Additive manufacturing (AM), or 3D printing, is the process of turning a digital file into a solid, three dimensional object.

The process begins with a virtual design of the item, made in a CAD (Computer Aided Design) file, which is then assembled by layering materials.

The technology is currently being used across various fields, including medical, automotive, dental and aerospace. As curiosity for the craft continues to grow, this will undoubtedly spread to additional industries too.

Courses and jobs within 3D printing engineering

3D printing not only allows hobbyist to create objects at home; it is revolutionising the way businesses – from SMEs to brand giants – are engineering their products.

The ability to build diverse items, from space food, to prescription drugs, with a 3D printer means the call for engineers to fashion these products is spiking. The amount of engineering job adverts requiring those with 3D printing skills has increased over 1800% in four years, with the most in-demand jobs being industrial engineers and mechanical engineers.

Today’s engineering degrees are even beginning to reflect this change. Although it’s still tough to find a degree specialising in the craft, many universities are combining additive manufacturing alongside other degrees, include biomedical engineering, design engineering, manufacturing engineering and structural engineering.

Unsurprisingly, the industry is male-dominated. Disappointingly, women are hugely underrepresented on bachelor’s degrees related to 3D printing, including computer sciences, electrical engineering and mechanical engineering; however, as the industry grows in size and reach, demographic diversity is shifting. With more women cropping up in the field, and 3D printing becoming a hugely sought after skill, there is clear potential for female involvement to soar.

Women in 3D printing

Anouk Wipprecht

Anouk is a fashion-tech designer who uses 3D technology to create innovative dresses.

She has worked with numerous large brands, including Audi, Volkswagen and the Black Eyed Peas, to create outfits worthy of a sci-fi movie.

Some of her most famous work includes the Smoke Dress, which emits a veil of smoke whenever someone enters the personal space of the wearer, and the Spider Dress, which is powered by Intel Smart wearable technology.

Jennifer A Lewis

Jennifer is a materials scientist and engineer at Harvard University. Together with her team, she is developing the chemicals and machines needed to enable 3D printers to use new materials.

The team at Lewis’ lab are outstanding in terms of achievements, designing ‘inks’ that are built from various types of materials. To date, they have printed microscopic electrodes and components needed for small lithium batteries, as well as biological tissue.

Lewis is also the Founder of Voxel8, a business with a mission is to enhance the world of 3D printing.

Lucky Ackland

Lucy decided she wanted to be an engineer at just 13 and became an apprentice at Renishaw at 16. She’s now Project Manager at the same firm, working on their next generation metal 3D printing machines, and won the Women’s in Engineering Society (WES) Award in 2014.

She dedicates a lot of time to volunteering with STEM, encouraging young people and females to explore a career in engineering.

The future for women in 3D printing

3D printing allows individuals to build highly customisable products, so it has obvious potential to expand its appeal beyond scientists and mathematicians to artists and designers.

Intel’s MakeHers report looked into the drivers for encouraging girls and women into science and engineering and found 3D printers to be a key tool. It found women were more likely to use the printers than men and that those with an engineering degree identified more with arts and creation than maths or science.

Eva Wolf, co-founder of 3D printing equipment manufacturer, AirWolf3D, says the key to encouraging women into the realm of additive manufacturing is to ‘start them young’. She wants to discourage the stereotype that boys are better at engineering than girls and, together with her 14-year-old daughter, is writing a children’s book, aimed at girls, about 3D printing.

The lack of women embarking on degrees associated with additive manufacturing is disappointing, but female advocates, finding innovative ways to shape the future of the industry, are increasing. Hopefully, as more young women are educated on the potential of 3D printing, the amount of those seeking an education to pursue a career within it will grow too.