One of the biggest factors in HP’s rise as the world’s innovation leader in 3D printing, the disruptive technology set to transform the $12 trillion global manufacturing industry, is a long heritage of printing leadership and reinvention that goes back decades.
The building blocks of HP’s groundbreaking Multi Jet Fusion 3D printing technology are actually rooted in one of the company’s most historic innovations, thermal Inkjet technology, which remains the gold standard for home and office printers some 30 years later.
For a good example of how HP’s past continues to inform its future, look no further than the 23-year company veteran who was recently appointed to lead one of its most cutting-edge organizations: Cheryl Macleod, HP’s new Global Head of 3D Fusion Science.
One thing that links your interests in science, cooking, and travel is a love of learning. What are some of your earliest memories of learning?
My earliest memories of learning weren’t in school, they were at home with my older brother, trying to keep up with him. I’ve always had a bit of a competitive streak. In first grade when he came home and said, “I know how to read,” I went straight to my mom and said “I want to read, too!” I also remember my mom taking us out on nature walks and looking under every rock and stump to see what creatures might be living there. That really taught me the value of experiential learning.
What drew you to science as a career?
I actually wanted to be a musician, but didn’t think it would pay the bills. I was really good in math and science so I got my bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering. But then I decided to change my focus to chemical engineering and went to UC Berkeley with the intent of getting a masters in that area, but then I switched again to a PhD program so I could spend more time doing hands-on research instead of sitting in a library. It’s that love of experiential learning again.
How did that bring you to HP?
The research in my PhD program was in the area of surface and colloid chemistry, which involves studying the relationships between properties in materials that are too small to be seen with the naked eye. It was that fascination with extremely small things that brought me to HP’s Inkjet business. The technology behind it is essentially teeny tiny drops shooting out of really complex but small devices to make incredible images on paper. I was hooked.
You’ve been here for 23 years in a multitude of R&D roles. How have you seen the company evolve?
When I joined the company, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard had both recently retired but they were still an incredibly strong presence, and most of the leaders in the company had worked with them directly. But then in subsequent years, I think the company began to move towards focusing more on short-term results than the big innovation picture that Bill and Dave founded it on. In the last two years it’s been really exciting to see our entire leadership team take the company back to its roots and reinfuse it with big, long-term commitments to innovation, talent, and disruptive technologies like 3D printing.
Who have your greatest mentors been?
There have been many, but the one who sticks out most was my first director at HP. I remember during my second week here I was invited to have a one-on-one with him. I was so struck that in this lab of literally hundreds of people, the director would take the time to meet with every new employee just to get to know them. That’s something I’ve always carried with me. Whenever I join a new organization I try to meet with every single person within the first few months. So many people have told me, “That’s never happened in my career before.” But for me it’s normal because it happened to me in my second week at HP.
Your new job is leading the Fusion Science organization for HP’s 3D printing business. What exactly does that team do, and what are your goals for it?
We focus on developing the deep science behind the materials that drive our business: the powders and agents that are used in 3D printing with Multi Jet Fusion. We take a very rigorous scientific and engineering approach to understanding and developing both our HP-branded agents and the ones developed by our materials partners. We lead the materials certification process and work directly with our partners to develop their materials and bring them to market. Our biggest long-term goal is to expand the breadth and applications of 3D printing materials to rival the amount used in traditional manufacturing, which is a number in the thousands. We’ve got our work cut out for us.
One of your biggest passions is cooking. What lessons from cooking have you applied to your work?
Well, cooking is all about chemistry: taking things through mixing, processing, and heating to create completely different things. In Indian cooking, the list of ingredients for each dish can sound nearly identical: the same basic spices, the same kinds of vegetables and rice. But the nuance is in the process you use for each one: do you add a certain spice first or last? Is it whole our ground? How long should it simmer? The process has a huge impact on how the dish comes out. So at work I make sure our engineers are very rigorous in documenting their processes in how they fuse things together. It really makes all the difference.
How has being a woman informed your career in a traditionally male-dominated field?
Before I came to HP, I interviewed with a few other companies. Each time, lunchtime would roll around and they’d trot out “The Woman” who worked there to have lunch with me to show me how good their diversity was, which of course wasn’t very convincing at all. Then I came to HP. I didn’t talk to a single woman during my interviews, but as I was walking down the hallways there were women working everywhere: in the labs, on the engineering teams, on the product teams. Nobody went out of their way to try and convince me that HP was a diverse company because I could see it with my own two eyes. As much as anything, that’s what brought me here.