Interview: Dr. Khalid Rafi, Lead Development Engineer at UL

Dr. Khalid Rafi has over 14 years of experience in teaching and research and is one of the few established metallurgist in additive manufacturing. His research has focused on process optimization, materials characterization and developing structure-property correlations for metallic parts produced using additive manufacturing techniques including selective laser melting (SLM), electron beam melting (EBM) and ultrasonic consolidation (UC). He has published 23 research papers and is acting as reviewer for various reputed international journals.  He completed both his Masters and PhD in Metallurgical and Materials Engineering at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) and received his bachelors from Kerala University in Mechanical Engineering. Dr. Khalid Rafi will be a speaker at the #3DHEALS2018 conference on April 20-21st, 2018. 
Jenny: When was the first encounter you had with 3D printing? What was that experience like? What were you thinking at that moment?
Khalid: 3D Printing caught my attention in 2010 while I was doing a literature search on potential advanced manufacturing technologies that would be interesting to consider for future research.
My first hands-on experience with 3D Printing was in 2011 at the Rapid Prototyping Center in University of Louisville where I joined as a Research Fellow. The first 3D Printer I worked was ARCAM S400, a Metal based 3D printer using electron beam energy to process metal powders. Electron Beam Process is now an accepted 3D printing technology for manufacturing metallic implants.
Though setting up the process was bit complex and handling the metal powder was bit messy, it was really exciting to take my first build out of the machine.
Jenny: What inspired you to start your journey/company/career/research in 3D printing (bio-fabrication/bio-printing)?
Khalid: Being a Mechanical Engineer with research background in materials and metallurgy, I realized the huge potential that 3D printing can offer on the materials and the process space. I was really curious about how the materials behave when it is processed at different conditions and what would be the impact on its final properties.
Jenny: Who inspired you the most along this journey in 3D printing (bio-printing/bio-fabrication)? This can be a mentor, a patient, a celebrity, anyone basically. You can name more than one as well.
Khalid: The 3D printing research team at University of Louisville led by Dr. Thomas L. Starr (professor at University of Louisville) and Dr. Brent E. Stucker (previously a professor at University of Louisville) was a real inspiration for me to stay focused on 3D printing research and to expand the research beyond academics. We did a few projects with direct industry relevance using the research grants from NSF and NIST.
Jenny: What motivates you the most for your work?
Khalid: At UL, ensuring quality and safety of products is our priority to accomplish our mission of working for a safer world. One of the motivating factor is the great opportunity lying ahead to work on developing procedures and methods to ensure quality and safety of parts produced by 3D printing. We need robust procedures which can ensure consistency and reliability of 3D printing process.
Also, it is really exciting to get involved with standards development activities, interact with the technologists who have great expertise in this field to understand the best practices, and to keep up to date with all the latest developments in 3D printing technology.
Jenny: What is/are the biggest obstacle(s) in your line of work? If you have conquered them, what were your solutions?
Khalid: Based on my current focus in validation/certification of 3D Printing materials and process at UL, limited 3D printing standards and unavailability of historical data are the two major obstacles. The 3D printing community is aware of this and rigorous activities are currently underway to develop standards and to make as much data available to the public domain.
Jenny: What do you think is (are) the biggest challenge(s) in 3D Printing/bio-printing? What do you think the potential solution(s) is (are)?
Khalid: The key challenges are on new materials development, process scalability, and of course, the cost. Fundamental research and application-based research should go hand-in-hand to address these challenges.
Jenny: What advice would you give to a smart driven college student in the “real world”? What bad advices you heard should they ignore?
Khalid: Get the right knowledge to critically analyze and differentiate hype and reality. Accept the fact that every technology has its pros and cons. Your challenge is to address the cons and come out with workable solutions.
Jenny: If you could have a giant billboard to promote a message to millions and even billions of people in our community (i.e. healthcare 3D printing and bio-fabrication), what message would that be?
Khalid: 3D printing is certainly a powerful tool that can greatly impact healthcare. To get the most out of it, take a holistic approach to the technology. Analyze and understand how you can leverage the technology for your specific needs. Go for adoption after having a thorough understanding of the technology.
Jenny: What were/was the best investment you made in 3D printing/bio-printing/bio-fabrication?
Khalid: We have made investments in collaborations with research institutes and in developing training curriculum for workforce development.
Jenny: What was/is the biggest risk you took in your career?
Khalid: My original career ambition was to become an academician. However, 3D printing influenced me to think in a different direction to move to the industry at a time when the path ahead was not that clear.
Jenny: What do you enjoy in your spare time? What are you passionate about outside of your work/3d printing?
Khalid: Other than being with family, I spend a good amount of my spare time reading articles shared by my contacts in professional networks.
Jenny: What is your favorite quote? Why?
Khalid: “Once you stop learning, you start dying” – Albert Einstein.
Continuous learning is a must to stay relevant in this world that moves faster in technological advancements.
Jenny: What does the word “3DHEALS” mean to you? =)
Khalid: A healing touch with 3D Printing technology.