What was your journey into manufacturing? How did you become involved in manufacturing as a profession? Was it a linear journey from school to career?
In 2003, I received my undergraduate degree in electrical engineering with an emphasis in power utilities at Texas A&M University. During my undergrad years, I interned and co-oped with the two largest power utility companies in Texas. My goal upon graduation was to start a career in that field in the Houston area. However, I graduated around the time Houston was experiencing the aftermath of the downfall of the Enron Energy Corporation. With tens of thousands of energy workers unemployed in the Houston area, I knew finding my dream job was going to be difficult.
I accepted a position with Schlumberger Global Oilfield Services as a junior oilfield engineer a few months after graduating from college. There I worked with radioactive sources to log oil wells. However, after training overseas and experiencing the grueling lifestyle of an oilfield engineer, I decided that was not for me. I came home after just three-to-four months on the job.
Looking for a more regular and less arduous schedule, I uploaded my resumé to a career building website and prayed for the best. In 2004, I received a call from B&W Pantex (the name at the time) in Amarillo, Texas, to work as a quality engineer on the manufacturing line supporting the build of components and assemblies for the military customer a few months later. I began at Sandia National Laboratories as a quality engineer in 2011 supporting component manufacturing. In 2017, I became a product engineer in manufacturing at the Labs. For the most part, though I have moved around a little, my career has remained in some degree in manufacturing.
What are some of the challenges you have faced as a woman in manufacturing?
I feel blessed to be working in manufacturing. For the most part the work hours are predictable and allow me to be effective in my other important jobs of being a wife, mother, and contributing member of my community and church family. The hours can sometimes be long when problems are encountered but thus far, I have been able to receive support from others and move things around as necessary during those times.
As a young engineer, I felt out of place when starting my career. Very few of my co-workers looked like me, dressed like me, shared similar interests, or were in my stage of life. I worked hard to assimilate. I wanted to fit in, be a member of the team and feared drawing any attention to myself. When I look back at the pictures of myself during that time, I grieve. To fit in, I went shopping after my first week of work. I purchased a few pair tan trousers, some checkered pattern button down shirts, a brown leather belt, and penny loafers. No earrings. That was my look the first few years of my career.
Today there are many more women in technical fields and more companies, such as Sandia National Laboratories, are striving to hire a more diverse workforce. Today there are mentoring programs for new employees at most companies. I mentor young engineers coming in to Sandia to allow them to avoid the mistakes I made and to encourage them to not to be afraid to be themselves. Today women have more flexibility and are starting to be recognized as equals with their male counterparts and valuable assets in the workplace.
What advice would you give to a woman interested in manufacturing?
I highly recommend that women pursue manufacturing as a career. Its appeal is the fact that you are delivering a tangible product, a product that is useful and appreciated by the customer that purchases it. My advice would be to consider pursuing manufacturing if the following appeal to you:
•Every day is a different day and a new challenge.
•Learning new things constantly.
•Improving things and challenging others to do the same.
•Producing valuable products that are appreciated by others.
If you decide to pursue manufacturing, take the time to learn and study as many aspects of manufacturing as possible, including supply chain management, metrology, engineering, warehousing, etc.
What advice would you give to any women interested in careers in science and technology?
I would tell any woman deciding on what career field to pursue to sit down and write out the pros and cons of the industry or business they are interested in. The one thing I encourage college students to consider is if the field they are considering will accommodate their desired lifestyle throughout the stages of their lifetime. When I was an unmarried college student, constant travel appealed to me. However, once I became married and had children, constant travel was no longer appealing to me or conducive to my family life. Pick a career field that is flexible enough that it will allow you to thrive at every stage in life. Consider:
•Does the industry allow you to work from home if needed?
•Will the industry allow you to take off one to two years to care for loved ones or whatever it is you want to do? Will it welcome you back?
•If you like to travel, will you get to travel?
•If you do not want to travel or move often, can you remain in one location and not be penalized in your career?
•Are hours flexible or standard banking hours?
What advice do you wish someone had given you?
•Wear a dress/skirt and earrings if you want to.
•Make data-driven decisions, support your decisions, and trust your decisions.
•When someone is upset in the workplace, it usually means they are scared and insecure. Don’t take it personally.
•Stay abreast on the latest trends in your industry. Read, read, read.
What are some of your previous careers? What certifications or degrees do you have?
•Junior Oilfield Engineer 
•Quality Engineer (manufacturing) [2004-2008]
•Quality Assurance Consultant [2008-2009]
•Quality Engineer [2009-2012]
•Production Engineer (batteries and other components) [2012-2017]
•Product Engineer (manufacturing) [2017-current]
•Certified Quality Engineer (ASQ-CQE)
•Green Belt Certified
What, in your personal experience, are the benefits of additive over traditional manufacturing?
In my experience, additive manufacturing has been very beneficial. It really is a game changer. It is fast, can hold somewhat tight tolerances and is becoming more flexible. We can design tooling and fixtures in one day, print the designs overnight and be able to use it the next day. It cuts the design iteration time down significantly and reduces the cost of fabrication. Instead of sending out a contract for a machine shop to build a development design in three to six months, you can print the design overnight. If the design concept is not right, it can be corrected and reprinted by the next day. Once you are satisfied with the design, then you can have it machined if desired.
What are the challenges and successes of working in manufacturing in New Mexico?
I have found it is hard to find individuals that are qualified and experienced in Geometric Dimensioning and Tolerancing in New Mexico. Unfortunately, there are very few institutions that offer instruction in GD&T for vocational or traditional college students in the U.S. This makes it hard to find people to hire to do this work, as well as hard to find machine shops that understand it when things are sent out to be machined. For what I have seen, this is a nationwide issue and not just a New Mexico issue.
New Mexicans have manufactured a variety of items across industries with a smaller population and less of other things than our fellow states. New Mexicans are producing and providing oil, gas, green chilé, salsa, beer, mattresses, security devices, solar devices and the list goes on. New Mexicans have proven themselves to be innovative and hardworking and able to do whatever needs to be done.
Watch this video to learn all about New Mexico Energy Manufacturing: our mission, vision, and the future of New Mexico.
Read Bobbie Williams’ Manufacturing Day presentation here
Interview with Royal Spragg the Vice President of Emerging Technologies at Westwind Computer Products.
Roadrunner 3D is the entity under Westwind that handles manufacturing.
Why did you choose New Mexico as a location for Roadrunner 3D? What
are the challenges and successes you have faced with your business in New Mexico?
RS: Roadrunner 3D is a subsidiary of Westwind, a comprehensive IT solutions company that has been based in New Mexico since it was founded more than 25 years ago. Our owners are based in Albuquerque and are embedded in the local economy and culture. New Mexico is ripe with talent and can be a real leader in additive manufacturing.
What qualifications does someone need to work in 3D printing?
RS: Enthusiasm! It certainly helps to have some exposure to the technology, but we have people who came into Additive Manufacturing from very different areas, including Mechanical Engineering, Graphic Design, Machining, and 3D printing as a hobby.
What is the most challenging product you have printed at Roadrunner 3D?
RS: We have printed a variety of unique and complex parts over the last year. Small, large, and complicated, but to me the most challenging are the parts where we can save the customer time or money by printing assemblies rather than a group of parts that would otherwise require assembly. Or by doing multiple prototypes and iterations in a very short period of time.
What is an unexpected product you have printed at Roadrunner 3D?
RS: One product that caught me off guard was a very simple 3D-printed part that helped a farmer with watering his livestock. Too often, I think we assume that new technologies only have high-tech applications, but Additive Manufacturing can be used in virtually any business – including even the oldest of technologies, like Agriculture.
How can New Mexico be more accessible and enticing to additive manufacturing businesses?
RS: For New Mexico to be more enticing to additive manufacturers, educating “traditional” manufacturing industries about the advantages of Additive Manufacturing is key. Show these more traditional industries how additive manufacturing can help improve their processes. There are also opportunities to lobby for state incentives or government support for additive manufacturers looking to expand into New Mexico.
What do you hope to accomplish in New Mexico 5 years from now or 10 years from now? What is your vision of your future here in New Mexico?
RS: We hope to continue to grow our Additive Manufacturing operation with Roadrunner 3D here in New Mexico over the next several years. We also want to integrate and partner with other local manufacturers to help make New Mexico a “Center of Excellence” for the next generation of manufacturing. With the base talent already high with DOE Research Labs and technology businesses based in NM, there is no reason that we cannot work together to take this industry to the next level.
Is there a future application of 3D printing that you are excited about and preparing for?
RS: Absolutely. I am very excited about the future application of Metal in 3D printing. Roadrunner 3D already has the capability to manufacture metal prototypes and small batches of metals via additive methods. The next evolution of this – manufacturing large batches and runs of metal parts – is not far off. We see the first of these machines coming by the end of THIS year.
In your own words what are the benefits of additive manufacturing over traditional manufacturing?
RS: There are many benefits to additive manufacturing over traditional manufacturing. The First is digital manufacturing. Additive manufacturing allows for rapid iterations, customization and even serialization– every part in a build/run can be different. Second, because of the powder-based machines we use, the geometries are virtually limitless. We can produce a part with geometries that are impossible to machine and we can even print entire assemblies, combining many parts to one, which is a great cost saving method. And finally, efficiency – on a few levels. Because it is additive, there is little-to-no waste. Additive manufacturing can save energy and manufacturing costs and because it is manufactured-as-needed, it reduces lead times and inventory levels. On demand, on time and on budget.
Anything that you would like to add or that you would like people who will view the video to know?
RS: I encourage everyone to think “outside the box” and ask yourself if you have a challenge that could be solved through Additive Manufacturing. Roadrunner 3D’s solutions engineers are here to listen to your current process and see if we can help solve your challenge and help their vision become a reality.
Royal Spragg is the Vice President of Emerging Technologies at Westwind Computer Products where he manages a team of professionals providing new technologies to their customer base, including Additive Manufacturing and UnManned solutions. Prior to Westwind, Royal spend 20 years at HP, Inc. developing and managing technology businesses including computing, printing, and digital imaging. He has extensive experience managing teams providing products and services to customers including government, commercial, and retail. Royal has a BA in Management Information Systems from the University of Iowa.