This is part of a series of interviews of people who are active within the additive manufacturing space in Chicago. Today we will be highlighting Dr. Mike Vasquez. Dr. Mike Vasquez is a 3D Printing expert specializing in pushing the boundaries of advanced 3D printing technology. He is the Founder of 3Degrees, a Chicago-based consulting company focused on helping organizations maximize their investment in the technology. He has worked side-by-side with some of the top machine manufacturers, material producers and end users in the industry, consulting with them to identify novel applications, test new materials, and develop frameworks to maximize R&D efficiency and boost ROI. So please enjoy this brief interview!
Ese: Tell me about your background in school.
Mike: I received my bachelor’s and master's degree in Materials Science and Engineering from MIT. I received my PhD in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Loughborough. At Loughborough I had a research focus on laser sintering systems for powder based systems. I also had the chance to work with Burton and prototype snowboards for them. It was a fun experience and I even learned to snowboard.
Ese: What got you interested in additive manufacturing?
Mike: There are two things that got me interested in additive manufacturing. Firstly, there are a lot of unsolved problems on the material side of additive manufacturing. Secondly, there is a lot of unsolved problems on the people side as well. I try to think in terms of how does one put the whole process together with a larger team.
Ese: You got a PhD in the UK. Are there any differences in how the UK and the US operate in the additive manufacturing industry?
Mike: Industry collaboration was focused on shorter term projects within the 2-3 window frame of completing a PhD in the UK. Collaborating with a company during your PhD is an immense opportunity. It is very important for both parties. It's important to make things tangible. A PhD has a lot of expertise, but industry lags a bit at times.
Ese: Have certain ideologies and ways of thought influence the way you operate today in the US from your time in London?
Mike: Generally, I would say that having other perspectives of how people run their businesses and how innovation happens was very positive. I always try to do the best I can to have an open mind and be empathetic to how and why people do what they do. There’s always more for me to learn.
Ese: Why did you start your company?
Mike:I have an interest in putting a puzzle together with additive manufacturing. There is a need to build within this industry. There are useful cases for 3D Printing that are cost justifiable. I wanted to help companies understand how to leverage this technology. Also I wanted to explore and learn in ways I hadn't known before. Getting to learn by seeing the scope of small companies and larger corporations really was something that interested me.
Ese: In Chicago there is a trend towards the movement of Industry 4.0, what do you think of this?
Mike: I think it is useful. One thing to remember is there are people involved within all projects we want to create. Technology needs to enable an organization to be more efficient. It is great when applied to people and not replacing things. There are methods to why things are done a certain way. It is hard to replace the person. We need to make tools with the right context and respect for the 3D environment. It is an interesting field for sure to me. Overall there are a lot of positives.
Ese: How do you see the future of additive manufacturing?
Mike: It is certainly growing. I think that people are starting to understand how to design really well as well as the underlying technology. Growth is coming from this prototyping environment. The opportunity to apply these learnings from smaller systems is interesting. The leap from prototyping to full production parts takes a lot investment. Bigger industries will help to push the technology forward. Material companies are exploring the technology and exposing people to even more materials. Some universities and K-12 organizations are focusing on 3D Printing education. Workforce development is interesting and it teaches people about what possibilities are available for a first job. I don't have any predictions, but for the most part the tech is growing.
Ese: Lastly, where do you see Chicago in terms of the global additive manufacturing field in the future.
Mike: mHub is an awesome resource. We have a nice central location for travel. We have a lot of exciting companies based here. A lot of companies have a presence here. AMUG will also be here in Chicago soon. It is a great central location as well within the US. The ecosystem here is focused on supporting manufacturing. I think it is as good a place as any to be in.