Polish 3D printing company Zortrax has evolved since its founding in 2013, moving beyond 3D printer hardware production into materials and software to offer a comprehensive 3D printing ecosystem to its customers. Its products—which include the Zortrax M200 Plus, M300 Dual, M300 Plus, Inventure and Inkspire 3D printers; a broad range of filaments and resins, Z-Suite software and more—are now offered in 90 countries across six continents.
Beyond its prominent position in the desktop 3D printer market, Zortrax is also notable for its leadership and the presence of women in top positions. Of the company’s three co-founders, one is a woman, Karolina Bołądź—who we spoke to for this interview. She is also accompanied by COO Marcelina Rybarkiewicz, Business Development Director Marta Shalima and Head of Finance Dorota Borowska. Out of nine highlighted positions on Zortrax’s website, four are women—a near-balance that is still too rare in the AM industry.
We spoke to Bołądź recently for our Women of 3D Printing focus to learn more about Zortrax’s mission and place within the industry and about her own experience as a woman in AM.
3dpbm: Can you tell us a bit about your background? How did you enter the 3D printing industry?
Karolina Bołądź: I never thought that my career would be related to 3D printing! I found my way into the industry in a rather unusual way. I have always been interested in industrial design. That was my field of study. 3D printing is, of course, strongly connected to design because it is one of the technologies making it possible to create product prototypes. In the case of the 3D printer manufacturer, as well, there is the issue of designing the device itself.
Hardware design is a bit of a niche in Poland as we lack methodology and knowledge in this area. There are only a few manufacturers of specialized equipment that make good products based on a consistent and fully conducted design process. Interestingly, 3D printers themselves are a tool for industrial designers, so not only can they be an interesting product in their own right, but they also generate other new products. I’d like to add that I wouldn’t be in this industry if I had not met Rafał Tomasiak, founder and president of Zortrax—he is the one to whom I owe these last five years in the industry.
3dpbm: What is your role at Zortrax?
Bołądź: At Zortrax, I focused on various areas of business development. I was involved in marketing, design, product development, operational development and process optimization. Currently, I focus on brand building in a broad context and this is the area closest to my professional aspirations. My priority is to provide a positive and unique brand experience—from selecting the right product to the moment of receiving the shipment, unpacking the equipment, contacting customer service, and purchasing consumables. Over the years, we have managed to build a great team that takes care of every detail, such as the quality and appearance of the packaging or a smooth delivery.
3dpbm: Can you say something about the Zortrax company mission?
Bołądź: Zortrax’s mission is to provide comprehensive and reliable solutions for additive manufacturing and rapid prototyping, especially for small and medium-sized companies. We are committed to providing companies, freelancers and budding designers with a complete solution that will enable efficient and cost-effective prototyping or, in the case of some products, full production. We are creating a Polish brand that is internationally successful in an innovative field. Poland has already gained recognition in the international arena by providing excellent experts in the IT industry or software solutions, and we want to add hardware to this list.
3dpbm: What do you think are the most promising aspects of Zortrax’s 3D printing technologies (and AM more broadly)?
Bołądź: It is important for us to diversify our product offer in terms of a variety of solutions—we currently offer three basic, complementary technologies (LPD Plus, SVS and UV LCD). We are also working on the introduction of devices that go beyond additive manufacturing and deeper into rapid prototyping.
The essence of the AM market has remained the same for years: to provide companies and designers with the ability to quickly produce one or more prototypes, parts at some stage of product design or to prototype a solution to a design problem. However, the trend of introducing 3D printing as a production method is definitely noteworthy. Companies can not only prototype cheaper and faster, but also produce cheaper and faster. Using our solutions, organizations can create the final product from scratch, literally in a few days. In addition to reducing product development costs, 3D printing offers other benefits as well: possible personalization, reduced logistics costs related to goods warehousing and the organization of on-demand production. I think that the more traditional low-volume production methods will soon be replaced by 3D printing.
3dpbm: Looking at AM more broadly, what do you think will be the next steps in the industry’s evolution?
Bołądź: It can be observed that the machines are becoming only a carrier of a wide range of possibilities offered by different software and material solutions. The diversity of printing materials is currently one of the main competitive advantages. In addition, brands are becoming more and more mature—a good product must be accompanied by adequate communication and a range of supporting tools.
3dpbm: What are some of the challenges you think women face in the industry? And have you faced any challenges as an executive in 3D printing?
Bołądź: Of course, I can only speak on the basis of my own experience, but never on my career path have I been discriminated against due to the fact that I am a woman. For a long time, it was a common belief that women find it difficult to enter the male world of technology, and even more so to find their place there. Over the past five years, I have faced many challenges, but they have affected the entire team, not only women, and have not been associated with their position in the company.
It seems to me that because we operate in an innovative environment, we are often compared to companies in the software sector, which from the moment they cross the break-even point can be quickly scaled up, bringing high profits while maintaining a relatively small structure. Unfortunately, being in the physical products sector, we had to remove these rose-colored glasses and face reality. Scaling up the sale of 3D printers is followed by optimization of production processes, increasing investment in components, increasing warehouse space, quality control, as well as complex logistics processes associated with distribution around the world. We have also not always managed to find suitable partners for the development of various areas of our business—we’ve realized on multiple occasions that trust is built over many years, and the price of media success may be the appearance of the wrong people on our way. We had to grow up in business at a fast pace.
We’ve had better and worse years. 2018 was a demanding year for us when we focused on implementing new products, which we worked on throughout 2017, but already after the first months of 2019, we can see that it will be the time to enjoy the fruits of the hard work we did during that time.
3dpbm: Have you noticed if there have been advancements in terms of gender balance in the workplace/at AM events throughout your career?
Bołądź: I can say without hesitation that there is a change of mindset and that the views on women in the technology sector are changing for the better. Of course, it is still dominated by men, but there are more and more women, including in top positions. The line between typically masculine and feminine industries is gradually blurring, which I am glad to see. Women are eagerly hired, noticed and they perform well, thanks to which their points of view and roles in this business are appreciated.
There are also many strategic positions to be taken. 3D printing should not only be seen as a course for technical university graduates who create software or design parts of devices. We have a number of positions related to design, human resources management, marketing, sales and customer service. As for the feminine accent in the field of 3D printing, I think that since there will be more and more of us in the industry, it is important for our perspective to have an impact on how this market looks like in a few years’ time.
3dpbm: As an executive at Zortrax, do you place an importance on diversity?
Bołądź: I think that the strength stems from team diversity. Both in terms of gender, age and other factors. Based on my experience I gained so far, I am convinced that diverse teams are more productive and creative. Diversity forces us to look at everyday tasks and problems from different perspectives.
3dpbm: How can more women be encouraged to enter the AM industry?
Bołądź: An increasing number of women are aware that this is a promising area and they want to develop in this direction. Currently, there are many meetings and mentoring programs available to encourage women to enter the tech industry. This is a positive signal because the way in which work and development opportunities in the technological area are presented is changing. The industry is becoming more accessible, and young women are more open to new opportunities as a result. I think they should actively use them, find out, seek their place and, above all, be inspired by other women who are successful in this field. Certainly, they should not think in a stereotypical manner or feel discouraged. On the other hand—nothing should be done by force. Each of us must find her own path of development.