Women’s month has always provided a great opportunity to highlight successful women in the workplace and assist in the global breakdown of gender divisions. RAPDASA has made every month a reason to empower and encourage women through their endorsement of the Women in 3D Printing global initiative. With the current status quo of the 3D printing world (and technology in general) still largely dominated by men, women such as Malika Khodja, Dr Michaella Janse van Vuuren, and Pauline Bullockare using their voices, knowledge, and experience to empower other women in the industry.

The supportive platform provided by the international Woman in 3D Printing organisation continues to shatter the glass ceiling of gender bias and separation. The shared challenges experienced by women in the workplace are just that – shared, which is why the organisation has focused on growing the community of women in 3D printing to create expansive and effective support systems. Operating as a non-profit organisation, RAPDASA (Rapid Product Development Association of South Africa) strives to connect leading innovators, entrepreneurs, industry partners and academics through various community engagement events. As such, it is only fitting that a platform for women empowerment in 3D technology is recognised, promoted, and supported through initiatives such as Women in 3D Printing.

In celebration of Women’s Month, this article highlights three successful women from the 3D printing world: Malika Khodja, Dr Michaella Janse van Vuuren, and Pauline Bullock.Not only are these women highly qualified and knowledgeable, but they too have a story tell, important opinions to voice, and compelling insights to share. An interview was conducted with the following topics discussed:

  1. Academic and career background
  2. The inspiration behind entering the 3D printing industry
  3. The status quo of 3D printing in a South African context
  4. Challenges women face in the industry
  5. How to encourage more women to enter the 3D printing world

Ms Malika Khodja as the South African ambassador for the global Women in 3D Printing Organisation

Ms Malika Khodja obtained an undergraduate and Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Djillali Liabes. Her PhD project involves numerical simulations and modelling of aircraft crack repair with composite patches, which was done in Algeria. As the current Managing Director for TiziriTech and the South African ambassador for the Women in 3D Printing organisation, Malika’s mission is “promoting, supporting, and inspiring women using Additive Manufacturing technologies”.

An effective ‘leading by example’ approach, Malika drives this mission to increase the visibility of women in the industry by facilitating monthly meetings, workshops, and seminars, which are open to both men and women with the same mission. Through her involvement in the Women in 3D Printing global organisation, she has invaluably assisted in the creation of a local platform where women are supported in their collective challenges experienced in the industry, such as gender division and an overall lack of visibility. Malika encourages more women to join the local women in the 3D printing community to gain exposure for women and join a stimulating community with other 3D printing enthusiasts.

Ms Malika Khodja’s inspiration to join the industry came after she “identified the need for consulting in training services in advanced manufacturing”, after which she founded her own company in 2018. She felt that it “is important to show the local manufacturing industry the advantages of various 3D printing processes to give them a competitive advantage”. Ms Khodja comments on the status quo of 3D printing in South Africa saying that, “3D printing is an essential part of industry 4.0. The growth from being initially used for rapid prototyping to now producing functional components has been an important development”.

With all this development, the question now is how can women get into the industry? Malika, suggests that “women must be made aware that 3D printing offers an exciting career within industry 4.0.” and that they “need to be exposed to the technology before arriving at university, preferably during high school already”. This early exposure would certainly serve as an ideal head start for young women in the industry, but what about the women who are looking to enter the 3D world today? Dr Michaella Janse van Vuuren has a possible answer.

Dr Michaella Janse van Vuuren celebrates women’s imagination, creativity and innovation 

With a Doctorate in Electrical Engineering and a Post Doctorate in Medical Implant Development, Dr Michaella Janse van Vuuren suggests that women empower themselves by taking courses online and think about “what you would design and what are you interested in”. Once there is a product design, the process for women trying to enter the 3D world becomes easier, as Dr Janse van Vuuren explains: “When you have examples to show to somebody when applying for a job or funding, you already show that look, you can design for 3D printing, you know the jargon, and you understand the machines”.

It is this type of creative problem-solving with a hands-on approach that leads Michaella on a personal journey of combining her passion for art with the technology available to bring her ideas to life. Essentially, her message for women is to approach the industry head-on, to educate themselves, and offer practical examples to potential employees that show both creativity and know-how.

Dr Janse van Vuuren voices her opinion on the status quo of women in the industry saying that “3D printing is still very much a man’s world, and I think it’s so important that women enter that world. We need women’s perspectives in design teams and policymaking. So many products and policies directly relate to women and being mothers”. She explains that we should tap into the imagination and creativity of woman from all segments of society, which can open the door to unlimited product design potential; from jewellery, fashion, kid’s toys, and innovative concepts that truly speak to the needs of all women and mothers, and of course the enrichment of industry 4.0 as a whole.

Michaella speaks about the advantages of imagination and creativity for industry 4.0 in that “instead of investing in expensive machinery or sourcing all the components of product design from various suppliers, the designer can now simply create a digital design and manufacture the product on-demand”. This type of creative freedom allows women to expand their designs as far as their imagination can stretch. The result, therefore, is the creation of innovative and carefully thought out products that challenge the undermined status quo of women’s position in the industry. With the endless possibilities of 3D printing, Michaella explains that women bring a creative and different viewpoint to product design which allows for a more “holistic view of who is using a product, what they need, and the context of it”.

Pauline Bullock advises women to enter the 3D industry

With all this being said, the next point of inquiry leads us to a context-specific review of the current state of 3D printing in South Africa. With a Master’s degree in Chemical Engineering and professional experience in the industry, Pauline Bullock has this to say: “I think in South Africa we are past the hype stage and have started seeing growth in real additive manufacturing applications”.

Having progressed from 3D printing merely being the flavour of the week, to South Africa moving towards some groundbreaking developments, where does that leave South African women in the industry and is there still place for 3D printing enthusiasts? From Pauline’s perspective, from having experience in both technological and creative development, she says that “3D design is not just for industrial designers and engineers – there is huge scope for jewellery design, footwear design, art and even fashion. Remember that 3D printing is not the end goal – it is a very powerful tool”.

With so many possibilities presented by 3D printing technology and development, what advice is there for women in the industry and how can they be encouraged to get more involved? Pauline Bullock explains that there are many routes to a career in Additive Manufacturing and a good starting point for women is a STEM background.  She also advises women to consider the “creative aspect of 3D printing – to create parts using a 3D printer you need to have a 3D CAD model. Any design-oriented profession will now include 3D CAD skills.

There is certainly uncharted potential for women entering the industry, especially when they are educating themselves, and using the community for support, offered by initiatives such as the Women in 3D Printing organisation. It is just a question of time before gender division is eliminated and the true value of women in the industry is fully recognised. Like Pauline says, “I have worn many hats”, and so too have all women, which is exactly what brings such dynamic ideas and perspectives to 3D printing and the world. 

With a little lipstick and a whole lot of passion and insight, industry role players such as Malika Khodja, Michaella Janse van Vuuren, and Pauline Bullock are proving that 3D printing is not just a man’s world anymore. The status quo of 3D printing in South Africa seems to be one of the stable growth from which the country hopes to see long-term effective manufacturing, infrastructure, and creative product designs. For women entering in or already in the industry, there is a collective challenge to break down gender bias, which has been a key motivator behind the establishment of the Women in 3D Printing organisation.

The international Women in 3D Printing organisation was established with a mission of promoting, supporting, and inspiring women using Additive Manufacturing technologies. The initiative seeks to foster a more diverse industry. By featuring women shaping the industry, they hope to encourage more women to join the industry. Each week, a woman contributing to the industry is highlighted. While working on shattering the gender glass ceiling, Women in 3D Printing has realized that to be truly successful in their mission, they need to address diversity in its broader sense. WI3DP organisation is building a strong network of global events, thanks to the support of local ambassadors across the globe.

In a largely male-dominated industry, women with a passion for 3D printing are encouraged to continue educating themselves and approach the industry head-on, bringing with them creativity, know-how, and determination. With the future of 3D printing in South Africa promising game-changing technological developments, the possibilities for women in 3D printing are truly as limitless as their creativity precedes.