LG2 Reflective Statement – Professional Networking

As with previous work, this report required reaching out and networking with industry experts. However I found for this work when discussing new topics with professionals working in that industry, it required plenty of background research and understanding the basics beforehand. After weeks of reading up on cybersecurity fundamentals and information systems, I started to contact a selection of relevant individuals. I had less success than my networking attempts during LG1, with many individuals not having the time to speak with me. I was able to bounce ideas and discussion points off a colleague at work, Mark Muller who is a contracted web-developer and graphic designer. Whilst not directly in the field of cyber-security, Mark is well educated in the filed due to his work building websites, applications and databases for a variety of clients. Mark has also invested in several crypto-currencies and was an advocate for the use of blockchain networks in manufacturing when I discussed the prospect with him.

I also had a useful correspondence with Tim Rose, VP of business development at Identify3D. He was happy to answer my questions, comment on drafts of my report and sent a selection of articles and research topics to consider, even including a pre-release copy of a report his company had written in collaboration with the National Centre for Manufacturing Sciences in USA, which happened to focus on the exact same topic as my own report. Tim was kind enough to send several emails over many weeks and was a vital contact during this module.

LG2 Reflective Statement – Practical Case Study

This module involved researching, planning and carrying out a practical experiment testing the strength of modified 3D printed components. Whilst in practice, designing, slicing and printing files was not new to me, understanding the core code  beneath the surface of this process was new ground. I felt the experiment, whilst small in scale considering resources available was valid and a success, however was not without some errors on my part. Creating more samples and using approved part geometry would’ve enhanced the credibility of the experiment. I also feel if the experiment was conducted in isolation and not as part of a broader research topic, more of my final report could’ve been spent discussing the results and the repercussions of this topic.

LG2 Reflective Statement – Literature Review and Research Methods

Following advice from my sister, who recently completed an Msc course, I changed my approach during the early stage of this module, to ensure my research was kept focused and the time was better spent finding relevant sources and quotes.

I created a hard copy research folder, with the learning goal objectives and learning outcomes printed as the front cover. This encouraged me to refer back to these objectives far more frequently, keeping my report’s progress on track. Every article, paper or draft of my report validity and usefulness could quickly be evaluate it’s against the aims of my report.

Another change made to my research techniques, was to highlight useful quotes and significant pieces of information whilst first reading the document. Whilst a fairly minor change to my working habits, it made collating the information far quicker when writing early drafts of the report. With a selection of checked, highlighted and sorted quotes and facts to hand, writing the report was a far quicker process and I was confident that every source was of benefit.

LG2 Reflective Statement – Summary

Unlike my research for the the LG1 module, the content of this goal was completely new territory to me. Cybersecurity, information systems and network structures were just some of the topics which I explored during the research for this report. The practical case study of 3D printing components for tensile testing involved looking deeper into the workings of the printing G-Code then I had covered in previous work.

LG1 Reflective Statement – Practical Work

A decision early on in planning my work for this module was to include where possible some hands-on experience using some 3D printing equipment, which was implemented during my case study for OSET Bikes Ltd. This was an enjoyable task and was good to take a break from writing about these techniques and actually apply them in person. It was useful to apply these practical skills to the submission, despite my lack of formal training and limited experience with the equipment. I feel this will provide a good benchmark and will be interesting to compare to 3D printed practical work later on in the course, to show some skills progression.

LG1 Reflective Statement – Report Writing

A mistake I quickly fell into when writing the submission for the LG1 module, was ‘regurgitating’ facts, without analysing or being critical or them. On reflection, I believe this stemmed from a lack of clarity on my part, of the intended audience of this report. My intention was to create a visual report suitable for a newcomer to the topic, but with some general engineering and/or design experience. It was later clarified that my audience is predominantly those who are assessing it and therefore the content should be tailored for a greater level of engineering education. This was a mistake on my part and I believe a simple fix for future submissions, by clarifying the finer details of a submission with course staff at the start of a module, before producing a first draft.

LG1 Reflective Statement – Research Sources

Upon beginning my research, I was immediately struck by the lack of books or documentation available in the universities library on the subject, which is perhaps to be expected considering the relatively short time that AM has been considered in academic purposes. That being said, access to the majority of scientific and engineering journals through the academic licenses proved to be a useful resource. 

Much of my research came from publicly available articles and publications, a very useful example was the UK advisory group AMUK. The organisation have released many publications, full of useful insights, quotes and further reading references.

LG1 Reflective Statement – Course Structure

I found the informal, ad-hoc meetings with course staff to suit my self-guided studying style and were very useful. My part-time studying has to fit around my work schedule, so the lack of compulsory lectures or scheduled seminars suited my situation perfectly well, allowing my study hours to be flexible. I feel the process of only arranging a meeting with course staff when I have compiled research or discussion points before-hand to work well, resulting in fewer but far more productive discussions. 

Something that I should improve for future modules would be more formalised note taking and to ensure progress against the outlined action points are met between each session. Whilst the notes I have are perfectly useful, it would be better to track who makes each suggestion or comment, when it was made and if it was followed up before the subsequent meeting. This also ties into the lack of reflective blog posts I have made so far, something which should be improved immediately.

LG1 Reflective Statement – Networking

Key industry contacts were gained from visiting networking events such as the UK TCT show in Birmingham, an introductory 3D printing workshop hosted by Stratasys or a guided tour of the MTC facility in Coventry. Introducing myself as an Msc student in additive manufacturing and explaining the course in detail, were well received by these contacts, who unanimously seemed to agree that it was time AM was covered in more depth at higher education level. This is evident as in the past 24 months, no fewer than seven UK universities are now offering an Msc course in this field.

The majority of industry professionals I approached were more than willing to help out where possible, with invitations to interview them, answer technical questions or site visits to see first hand their use of the technology offered. Unfortunately the module time-scale became a limiting factor and allowing for busy schedules meant I could not take up some of these offers. For future first-hand research, I will aim to arrange these appointments earlier on in the module, which should allow for cancellations and diary clashes. To do this, I aim to employ improved project management tools, such as gantt and progress charts.

On reflection, I believe these events and seminars are invaluable to those hoping to gain useful insights into a new industry or to learn more on a broader level, but expectations should match the technical know-how of the audience and the content being delivered. For example, many visitors to the TCT show were hobbyists/enthusiasts and as such the content of the majority of discussions and seminars were tailored for very entry-level discussion topics. In contrast, the Stratasys workshop was pitched at industrial users of AM equipment, looking to upgrade to their newest models, so a level of knowledge is presumed and as such the seminars were far more advanced.

For more detailed specifics, I received much better results by privately contacting the speakers afterwards, most of whom were happy to discuss their topics in further detail. I believe their willingness to help my studies, stems from a wider understanding that for the industry as a whole to continue to grow and mature, it will require those involved to become better educated in the subject.

LG1 Reflective Summary

This LG1 module was predominantly spent researching additive manufacturing / 3D printing technology, the market drivers and examples of cutting-edge applications. Combined with the professional networking aspect, the module proved to be an ideal introductory activity for the rest of the Msc course.

Whilst investigating the current state of the industry and discussing wth those who are working in the field, several topics and ideas more relevant for future modules on the course were brought to my attention, which could be explored further at a later date.