From Intern to Materials Lead: Alex McCarthy on His Growth and Role at Formlabs

Jordyn de Boer
Nov 8, 2019 · 6 min read

Alex McCarthy joined the materials team at Formlabs as an intern during the summer of 2014, and after graduating from MIT he was hired full-time as a materials scientist.

Alex is now a materials lead, with responsibilities in both people and project management. He assists members of the materials team with any projects they’re working on, and supports the overall career growth of his team members. Alex also works on a variety of technical projects, such as collaborating with the engineering teams to develop settings for the Form 3.

Read on to learn more about Alex’s time at Formlabs, including his favorite materials team project, his biggest moment of growth, and how Formlabs has changed since he started!

How did you find Formlabs?

I met Luke Winston, our Chief Business Officer, at a startup career fair at MIT as a junior in college. I was completing a degree in Mechanical Engineering and working in materials science research. I wanted to find an internship in materials science and ended up working at Formlabs the summer after my junior year.

I continued to work at Formlabs part-time throughout my senior year, helping develop our black, grey, and white resins. After I graduated in 2014, I was hired as a materials scientist, and have continued to work on new projects as the company has grown.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned throughout your time at Formlabs?

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned throughout my time is to stay calm. In a lot of projects, there are things that will go wrong or not work, and it’s important to keep in mind that it’s a marathon not a sprint. At Formlabs, the projects we’re working on have never really been done before, so when you do come across issues, it’s crucial that you stay calm and focused.

Also, I’ve learned that communication is key. Learning how to best communicate with those around you really makes projects run more smoothly and easily.

What has been a moment of growth for you in your role?

My biggest moment of growth was when I was working on our Durable Resin. I had wanted to work on it from the beginning, and it turned out to be a very formative project because there were lots of technical challenges in developing it. Once we had these resolved and we thought it was ready to be launched, we discovered some last minute issues with printing reliability. It took longer than expected to complete the project because we ended up having to reformulate the resin to ensure the prints would be as reliable as possible. However, we discovered many ways to improve print success rate, in both the formulation and printing process. Essentially, it was good to “fail” because we learned so much, and have been able to apply what we learned to other resins we’ve developed.

I also have the opportunity to learn from our materials lead, Sharon, on a day-to-day basis. Her guidance is extremely beneficial as I take on different projects, and especially when I first started as a lead. I was unsure about taking on some aspects of my role involving people and project management, but she continuously supports me and has played a key role in my growth here.

What opportunities have you found in your work here?

In terms of the chemistry or polymers field, Formlabs has presented me with the opportunity to work on or develop new polymers that enabled someone to create something they may have not been able to before. At larger companies, you don’t feel as connected to the customer, and because our printers and materials are affordable and meet customers’ needs, you can really feel a connection to the customer when they use our product.

Another opportunity I’ve found in the last 6 years is the insight from being able to collaborate and communicate with others about what makes a company successful. It’s been rewarding to work in an environment where everyone is open with you about the challenges and rewards of being a company that’s growing rapidly.

What advice would you give someone who’s interested in the 3D printing world?

If 3D printing is something you’re passionate about, it’s a rewarding space to work in. It’s competitive and rapidly changing, so if you’re looking to contribute new ideas to the field and enjoy the work, then it’s something great to pursue. Those who are passionate, especially at Formlabs, are the ones who really make a difference.

Also, you truly get the best product when everyone on your team is focused on the customer, and can collaborate with those around you to achieve whatever goal you’re working towards. Essentially, the product is only as good as all the teams who work together on it.

What has been your best day at work?

I would say the best days are when we ship a new resin to our customers. It’s extremely rewarding when all of the marketing content comes together on the website, and you’re able to see it become a “real product” officially on the market. More specifically, the day our Durable Resin shipped.

For me, there’s nothing like the feeling of completing a project that may have been challenging or had a lot of work that needed to be put into it. Even if a project required extra time or energy to complete, it’s always a great day when you’re able to put the finishing touches on it.

How has Formlabs changed since you first started?

The company has obviously grown, and the materials team, specifically, has gone from two people to 27 within the last six years. This growth has allowed us to produce a wider variety of resins, and the new leadership on the materials engineering team has helped mature the work we’re able to do. I’ve enjoyed seeing the team grow because now we have the capacity to work on bigger projects in parallel with other teams, because of the increased headcount.

What has been your favorite materials project that you’ve worked on?

My favorite project definitely has been developing the Rigid Resin. We were trying to fit glass filler into resin for the first time, which provided a new challenge, so it was a great project. It was one of the first projects where I was in a leadership role, and I felt confident in both my technical and project management skills.

What is your favorite 3D print?

My favorite 3D print is the bust of Groot from the Guardians of the Galaxy. It was a test part that was adopted when we started shipping the Form 2 and we needed to validate settings. It’s my favorite because it’s challenging to print, is very detailed, and is often the test part for when we complete new materials, so I’ve seen it printed more times than I can count.

Formlabs is growing quickly, and we’re always looking for talented individuals to join our team, just like Alex. Head over to our careers page to learn about current opportunities on the Materials team at Formlabs, and how you can help us build the future.

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