MOM x Shentonista: The Third Dimension


3D Engineer

Taking the first step into the corporate world after graduation is a daunting step for many of us. We’ve spoken to many Shentonistas who have plenty of advice they’d like to share with their younger selves, especially when it comes to choosing your career—with many of them also assuring us that you don’t have to stick to one job, forever.

To ease some of that uncertainty, programmes like the SGUnited Traineeships Programme (SGUT) and SGUnited Mid-Career Pathways Programme give potential jobseekers the chance to explore an unfamiliar field and learn the skills that they would need for the role, before taking on a full-time responsibility.

Over the next few months, we’re speaking to three different people who’ve taken that first step. Through various government support programmes, each of them gained the skills to take on a new role, be it fresh out of university, or during a mid-career switch. Today, we’re introducing you to Jason, a 3D design engineer at 3D Metalforge, whose love for 3D printing was sparked by a coincidental encounter. From the first moment of intrigue till now, Jason shares with us more about how his traineeship in this niche industry has helped him understand more about the field, and determine the path he’d like to walk down in the future.

Tell us about when you were first introduced to 3D printing—what were your initial thoughts or impressions about the technology?
I’d say it was in university, while I was working on a bio-mechanical project. I was helping a PhD student design a prosthetic and we used 3D printing to create the prototypes. That process intrigued me, so I started finding out more through Google and YouTube.

While getting my engineering degree, I realised I preferred to learn more about new-age technology rather than traditional technology, which can be easily found in other fields. But new-age technology, like 3D printing, AI, and face recognition, is a lot harder to find. So naturally, when I graduated, 3D printing was my first choice and that landed me this traineeship at 3D Metalforge.

Most people may not be familiar with the world of 3D printing. Could you share with us a little more about it?
In traditional manufacturing, you create a product by pouring molten material into a mould. With 3D printing, all we need is software on the computer that lets you design anything, whether it’s complex sculptures or simple shapes. The printer reads the model on the software and prints it exactly, so you can reduce wastage of parts too.

3D printing also lets you print different materials. It can be hard rubber, soft plastic, or even thermal and chemical-resistant plastic—you can even do metal printing! The possibilities are almost limitless with 3D printing.

Tell us more about your current role as a 3D design engineer.
As a 3D engineer, I’m able to design a printable product that’s suitable for use across varied industrial purposes. If I don’t get it right, the part might not be strong enough to withstand high impact, especially if it’s in high-pressure environments like a ship turbine. I have to consider different things: the purpose of the part, the type of pressure it’ll go through, and the type of material. Apart from the technical aspects, we also have to put in deliberate thought because each part we use requires different specifications. I also conduct quality checks on the final products, to make sure that each part has been printed in optimal conditions.

What are some common misconceptions you’ve heard about your job as a design engineer?
One that I’ve heard more often is whether I can print food from my printer (laughs). 3D printing is a very complex process, and it’s hard to explain it to my family and friends.

When you first joined 3D Metalforge, you had to learn everything from scratch. Can you share more about the SGUT programme and the process you underwent?
I came in without knowing anything, if I had to be honest. There are so many aspects to 3D printing that I had to learn on the job. My interest in 3D printing led me to this traineeship, but I also liked how 3D Metalforge provides a service, so I know it’ll expose me to different types of clients. The skills I’ve picked up during this traineeship will be relatable to different industries later on.

My first priority as a fresh graduate is to gain exposure and experience. I had the option to go into a multinational company (MNC), where everything is sorted and structured. Over here, I enjoy more flexibility and freedom in terms of the experimentation I’m allowed to do, but there are definitely more hurdles to overcome. I enjoy being on the ball that way, which is another reason I chose this traineeship.

What were some key takeaways from the SGUT programme, both personally and professionally?
Professionally, I believe I’ve developed an eye for 3D printing. When someone comes up to tell me they want to try 3D printing a certain part, I now have a better idea of how to go about determining the proper materials and printing process. This role gave me time and space to experiment and learn, and every project has been a good learning point for me.

Something I discovered about myself from this job is that I really enjoy thinking outside of the box. There are no textbook solutions for 3D printing, and it’s up to your creativity and innovation to solve the tricky aspects of each project. I found out through breakdancing and b-boying that I was someone who preferred freedom over structure. I always enjoyed freestyle dancing more than a choreographed dance, which was just following someone else’s steps. This role showed me how there’s creativity to be explored in scientific fields too. Here, I can apply the same freeform thinking in dance to 3D printing.

What was something that you yourself were surprised to learn about your job?
By profession, I’m an engineer, but some days I feel like I’m a material scientist (laughs). There’s a lot of time spent doing research and development and doing different trials, and the R&D process can be longer than the actual printing.

What’s one of the most interesting or most challenging  projects you’ve ever worked on?
Every time I work with a new material, it’s a challenge for me. It’s also exciting for me to discover the different conditions a material needs to be printed successfully. The hardest part is that you never really know what you don’t know—you’ll only find out when you try.

What’s something about your job that excites you every day?
Every day is a new day. Each project that comes in is really different from my previous one, so the process is always different. I enjoy the challenges that come with every new design, because I don’t want to be in a role where I’m functioning almost mechanically.

We all have little habits we carry over from work—what’s a habit from work that you find yourself doing outside of work too?
I’m always thinking about how to solve problems (laughs). Even when I’m out of the office, I’m finding solutions to a failed print or thinking about a new material. Sometimes, I’m still thinking about the problem even when I’m asleep (laughs). Apart from that, I think I’ve also become more organised. As part of my job, I have to document all the R&D processes so I’ve learnt to keep things in order.

As this is a traineeship, do you feel your job scope is more limited than your colleagues? 
It’s hard for me to answer this question, because our company is on the smaller side and requires everyone to contribute. Even as a trainee, I’m given the freedom to suggest initiatives and make certain decisions. 3D printing is a niche field that requires experience, so without this traineeship, I don’t think I’d have gotten the chance to enter this industry, so I’m grateful for the opportunity.

What’s something you’d like to say to your peers who might be considering signing up for the SGUT programme?
I’d say to just go for it, as going through this traineeship has definitely helped me discover what I’d like to do in the future. The SGUT programme is a great opportunity to enter a field of your interest that might not have been an option to fresh graduates if it wasn’t for SGUT. Depending on the job or role you apply for, it could be an invaluable chance to gain wide exposure and upgrade yourself, given the current economic situation.

This is a feature for the Ministry of Manpower. There remain more than 25,400 company-hosted traineeship, attachment and training opportunities, which offer training allowances of up to $3,800 for mid-career individuals and $2,500 for fresh graduates. Find out more about the SGUnited Traineeships Programme and the SGUnited Mid-Career Pathways Programme.

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