From small-town Minnesota to engineering in Boston: spotlight on Sam Schmitz
Sam is a manufacturing and automation engineer at Formlabs. He designs and builds machines to make Formlabs products and manufacturing lines as efficient as possible.
Growing up in a small Minnesota town, he discovered a passion for engineering at a young age long before moving to Boston. We sat down to learn about his background, what he does, and how he has grown at Formlabs.
Tell us how you found out you liked engineering.
As a kid, I constantly took things apart and put them back together. I was fascinated with how things worked and how they were made. In my free time, I made catapults to launch golf balls and a coin-operated skee ball machine. In high school, I started a longboard company and turned my parent’s garage into a mini manufacturing line.
In college, I majored in mechanical engineering and product design. A few friends and I started a product design firm called “Design U” that connects design students with real work. By the time I graduated, we had dozens of clients, we ran a massive hackathon on campus every year, and we won student group of the year.
I followed Formlabs from the beginning with the Kickstarter project. One of my favorite professors in college was coincidentally roommates with Max (our CEO).
What are you most proud of?
When the first Form Cell came out, I was the most experienced on the team in using programmable logic controllers (PLC) so I wrote the code. It’s cool to know the machine traveling around the world is running my code.
When Grey Resin was becoming popular, it had high lead times and we couldn’t fill the cartridges fast enough. I designed a new pumping system which took 20% of the time and 25% of the cost to fill a resin bottle. It helped us decrease lead time.
How do you describe your work?
I make jigs and machines for our assembly lines and travel to our factories to set up new lines. If we can’t buy a machine for something, we do it ourselves. As an example, I made a machine that checks every single Form Wash bucket for leaks smaller than you could see by eye. Our manufacturing process and assembly lines help us sell great products at a great price.
Besides troubleshooting when things go wrong, we develop calibration routines and equipment and work on quality assurance and test validation. We also make sure product designs are manufacturable. It’s a small company so you really have to be good at doing lots of different things.
What does it mean to be a formling?
Being a young company, we have to think things through well and learn fast.
We are self-driven and not too big of a company where there is a lot of hierarchy. The best part about Formlabs is how awesome and collaborative the people are.
You can decide what’s important, figure out what needs to get done, and do it.
How have you grown or learned at Formlabs?
I’m learning and growing so fast it’s hard to explain exactly how. By the time I finish something, I want to re-do it because I am more experienced after.
We have more than doubled the company since I started and it is weird to think that I am in the veteran half of the folks here.
What is a unique challenge or problem in your role?
We are doing a lot of things that have not been done before. It’s hard to make something as cost effective and high performing as well as our printers are. It’s even harder to scale it up to make lots of thousands of printers.
What advice do you have for candidates or new hires?
For candidates: Know what you’re good at and what you like to do.
For new hires: Take time to see the whole picture of your role and the people around you. Figure out how you can best contribute. You have to be self-motivated and a self-starter. This being said — go talk to people! It’s an inclusive and positive environment and you can learn a ton by talking to people about what they’re doing.
What is the coolest thing you’ve printed using unlimited 3D printing at work?
I restored a 50-year-old motorcycle by printing lots of the cosmetic parts which saved me hundreds of dollars.
What’s a top moment for you at Formlabs?
While one of our engineers was gone, we swapped his Form 2 printer button with a key switch so he couldn’t start a print without the key. He went on a big scavenger hunt all around the office to find it. Almost the whole company was in on the prank.
Formlabs is growing fast. Join us.