Q&A: Cheryl MacLeod, Global Head of 3D Fusion Science and Materials Expansion at HP

A veteran of the 2D printing industry, Cheryl MacLeod has been leading various R&D projects at HP for over 25 years. In 2017, around the time the company announced extensions to its Multi Jet Fusion line, MacLeod made the move to the company’s 3D printing business, and now serves as Global Head of 3D Fusion Science and Materials Expansion.

In this role MacLeod is responsible for leading the development of the powders and agents at the core of MJF technology in one of the most advanced chemistries/materials labs in the industry. “Expanding the breadth and lowering the cost of advanced 3D printing materials and applications is a critical catalyst for the digital reinvention of the global manufacturing industry,” she explains.

An experienced leader and champion for women in engineering, 3D Printing Industry speaks to MacLeod about the evolution of 3D printing at HP, the potential of colloidal self-assembly, and how to remain competitive in this field.

3D Printing Industry: How would you say the 3D printing market/technology has evolved in the time you’ve spent at HP?

Cheryl MacLeod, HP: In terms of how the market has evolved, we are absolutely seeing manufacturers adopt 3D printing as a true production option, and going forward, we believe there will be explosive growth in materials development. More materials partners are interested in developing their ability to create AM powders, and as technologies become better suited for production, we’re seeing companies more willing to make investments in a broader range of high-performance materials.

We are right at the inflection point where the technology is starting to get to a level of maturity that is really going to enable it to go beyond prototyping and low-volume production and move up the curve into full-scale production.

3D Printing Industry: How do you prioritize what materials to develop next for MJF?

Cheryl MacLeod, HP: We prioritize new materials innovations that break down some of the traditional barriers to 3D printing adoption—such as cost, quality, performance, and diversity. This is part of our end-to-end approach to drive market expansion in everything we do—from how we work our customers and partners, and the systems we create, to why we build the materials that we do.

We started with plastics and introduced our metals technology in September 2018. And we just released TPU, which will open up whole new classes of applications for our customers.

Volkswagen is one of the first partners to use HP Metal Jet technology. Photo via HP
Volkswagen is one of the first partners to use HP Metal Jet technology. Photo via HP

3D Printing Industry: What industries do you see benefitting the most from 3D printing? 

Cheryl MacLeod, HP: HP is investing heavily in the future of 3D printing, and we are seeing tremendous adoption across all industries from automotive to consumer goods to healthcare, as we enable our customers to digitally transform their manufacturing. As part of our goal to open up large scale 3D production, we are working with some of the largest companies on earth. For example, Siemens, the world’s largest industrial software and services provider, and BASF, the largest chemical producer in the world, are elevating HP into the realm of true industrial manufacturing. And companies such as Volkswagen, one of the largest and most innovative vehicle makers in the world, are beginning to build HP 3D produced parts into their long term roadmaps.

One of the most interesting examples of mass production powered by 3D printing is SmileDirectClub, an innovative market leader that is digitally transforming the traditional orthodontics industry. SmileDirectClub is using our Jet Fusion 3D printing solutions to produce all of the mouth molds for their patients’ aligners and retainers, creating an average of more than 50,000 personalized mouth molds each day.

This level of mass personalized consumer experiences can only be made possible by industrial 3D printing and digital manufacturing.

SmileDirectClub's manufacturing facility in Antioch, Tennessee. Photo via HP
SmileDirectClub’s manufacturing facility in Antioch, Tennessee. Photo via HP

3D Printing Industry: You studied colloid chemistry as part of your PhD – do you see any future for colloidal self-assembly in 3D printing?

Cheryl MacLeod, HP: I could see a convergence coming between these two technologies in the future. My undergraduate studies were in Biomedical Engineering, so I’ll comment on an example there.

The biomedical sector is excited about the potential of both colloidal self-assembly and 3D printing. Patterning and coating the surface of metal implants to create templates for molecules and cells in the body to self-assemble is viewed as one of the most promising approaches to improving implant biocompatibility. 3D printing can be viewed as an attractive technology for implants in the future because it makes creating individually customized parts much more affordable than conventional manufacturing techniques. I can envision a time in the future when 3D printing and self-assembly of colloids could converge to deliver significant advances in medical implants.

I also anticipate that HP’s Multi Jet Fusion and Metal Jet technologies, which bring the unique ability to control chemistry down to the voxel level, could potentially play a significant role at the intersection of self-assembly and 3D printing. Our HP labs organization is always looking to evaluate advanced research initiatives like this, and this is a great example of areas to explore.

3D Printing Industry: What’s next for 3D printing at HP?

Cheryl MacLeod, HP:I’m really excited about our Jet Fusion 300/500 printers—the first 3D printing solution to enable manufacturers to produce engineering-grade, functional parts in full color, black or white in a fraction of time.

The 300/500 series is a huge step forward because 3D printing in color with the accuracy required for production has historically been extremely difficult. So we leveraged our 30 years of advanced chemistries expertise to develop revolutionary new thinking on light, heat and speed involving a new way to absorb energy like it’s black but to the human eye looks clear. By solving the color puzzle we are enabling designers to conceive and create in entirely new ways.

The potential impact of color in 3D printing is profound. For example, a heart surgeon can custom-create a true-color replica of a patient’s heart, with its complex network of veins and valves, in three dimensions instead of relying on a flat X-ray, and print it within steps of the operating room.

Sample full color sample 3D prints made on the HP Jet Fusion 300 / 500 series. Photo via Invent Medical/Nacar
Sample full color 3D prints made on the HP Jet Fusion 300 / 500 series. Photo via Invent Medical/Nacar

3D Printing Industry: What three pieces of advice would you give to anyone, especially women, seeking to forge a career in this industry?

Cheryl MacLeod, HP:

Keep Learning: The 3D printing industry is incredibly agile and changes every day. Push yourself to continue learning new ways to solve problems with 3D printing and make this a part of your daily routine. Remember your growth mindset and continually seek out examples of how innovators are using new tools or creating the next breakthrough application.

Expand Your Circle: Look for ways you can network and connect with people in your field, both inside your own organization and within the broader 3D printing industry. Furthermore, finding a mentor can drive greater empowerment and help you nurture new career opportunities.

Take on New Responsibilities: Be your own best advocate and ask for projects that expand your capabilities. By increasing your abilities, you will be more confident in everything that you do, from speaking up more in meetings, to producing better work, and ultimately becoming a more influential leader.

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Featured image shows Cheryl MacLeod, Global Head of 3D Fusion Science and Materials Expansion at HP. Photo via HP

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