“I mean, 3D printing is pretty sexy, right?” – Chad Henry, research scientist
As you may know we are big fans of 3D printing. Whether it’s helping a horse, supporting sleep suffers or producing a personalised pen, we have a lot of time for a disruptive technology that might be the biggest tech innovation we’ve seen in decades. So we were pretty chuffed to spend some time with a 3D printing guru.
The guru in question is Chad Henry, a research scientist from our manufacturing team. Hailing from the United States, Chad brings a unique charisma and enthusiasm to our labs in Clayton, Victoria.
In order to find out a more about the man behind the printer, we put a few questions to Chad about his work and his life outside the lab.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I enjoy that there is such a breadth of applications for metallic 3D printed components. Learning about the details of new potential uses, in order to best utilise the technology is interesting.
What does your job entail on a week to week basis?
Lots of interaction with companies interested in metallic 3D printing to explain the technical details and costs of it, all in order to search for successful applications for them. The other part is running projects, where we are always learning new things.
What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?
Chad counts his work on the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter among his career highlights. Photo Credit: Lockheed Martin
Because I helped design and make it, when the JSF F-35 went full speed down the runway and took off for its first-flight, that was quite a career highlight. But you could argue that the successful landing was more important.
What is the biggest challenge you’re grappling with in your role at the moment?
Large OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) that manufacture metallic components and integrate them into systems that result in high value products are few and far between in Australia. It’s these kinds of companies that are putting money into metallic 3D printing over in the US and Europe. Plus, the Australian industry is risk averse. All of this is makes the uptake of expensive new technologies challenging.
If you were at a casual dinner party, how would you respond if someone asked what you do/research?
I deliver metallic 3D printing technologies to companies to ultimately help the country, as I am partially government funded. Sometimes that takes a little R&D to get things just right, so then we can develop and execute projects that have a positive return on investment for the company.
What are some common misconceptions about 3D printing?
It’s easy to do. It’s inexpensive and good business cases are abundant. Design optimisation doesn’t really matter.
Chad counts minimal surfaces, among his favourite 3D printed items. Flickr/fdecomite/CC BY 2.0
What is the coolest thing you’ve ever printed in 3D?
Noting that cool is different from useful, I would say minimal surfaces (do an internet search if you need to – it is an interesting one) and mathematical based art.
What is the next big step for this technology? Good question. I’ll state two: 1) CAD software that makes taking advantage of the design freedoms inherent with 3D printing, and 2) driving down the cost. Both are important, already underway, and will continue to improve with time.
What was your first job?
Metallurgical Engineer at Bell Helicopter. This was in the late 90’s and we were 3D printing lost wax for investment castings then.
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
Sports Equipment Tester, analyser and designer. I am an OK athlete and I have an engineering mindset. I think I’d be good at it.
What hobbies do you have outside of your work?
The perfect dinner guests? Chad’s kids keep him busy and entertained with the type of conversations only kids can have.
I am a dad first and foremost. My kids are at a very fun age. I’d rather have dinner with them than anybody. The conversations are certainly candid and all over the place. Additionally, I try to find time for ice hockey, on- and off- road motorcycle track days, home brewing, table tennis, golf, and I have recently gone surfing a few times.
What advice would you give to somebody looking to follow your career path?
Have load-case and stress analysis capability and the knowledge to apply it to component design, along with the necessary CAD skills to then make it electronically.
What is the most funny/unique/odd situation you have experienced in your time at the CSIRO?
A 3D printed fish bait that once spent some inside a shark. Once recovered by our Marine and Atmospheric Research, it now sits on Chad’s desk.
I have a 3D printed fish anchor (used to affix GPS devices) on my desk that was in a shark for some time before being removed. It has remnant organic tissue on it. Thank you CMAR (CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research). They learned a lot about sharks.
If you had infinite resources, what research/experiment/project would you like to work on?
Two things: 1) Getting real-time non-destructive evaluation capability into metallic 3D printers. There are multiple benefits that would result from this, and 2) Further developing large scale metallic 3D printing. Let’s just print the whole airframe.
Which song or band best captures your job and why?
I don’t know… let’s see… the vast majority of people seem to love 3D printing, but they don’t necessarily know the technical details or science behind it, so it just seems like magic. Maybe the magic is partly why they love it. Surely there are songs along that topic line. OK, I got it… how about, “You sexy thing (Do You Believe in Miracles?)” I mean, 3D printing is pretty sexy, right?
One final thought from our 3D guru – a piece of pub trivia, or a nice fact to unleash upon unsuspecting dinner guests
People should know that 3D printing isn’t an overnight sensation. It has been in development for well over two decades.
And finally, just because it is a little pet peeve of mine, I’ll share a quick piece of advice. First though, let me say that by itself, it won’t make you sound like you know what you are talking about, but it will certainly help you “not” sound like you “don’t” know what you are talking about. Got it? OK … here it is … Regarding 3D printing of metals, the process is fusion (i.e. melting).