Interview with Anna Bickham, CEO of Acrea 3D

Anna Bickham is the cofounder and CEO of Acrea 3D. Anna received her Ph.D. in chemistry from Brigham Young University in Dr. Adam Woolley’s lab, focusing on traditional and 3D printed fabrication of various medical and electrical microfluidic devices. She then spun Acrea 3D out of the technology used during her doctoral program, originating out of Dr. Greg Nordin’s lab. Acrea 3D specializes in micro-scale DLP-SLA printing of void features down to 20 um. By leveraging mechanical, software, and physical techniques, Acrea 3D enables true microfluidic 3D printing. Anna will be speaking at our upcoming 3D printing and Microfluidics Event.

When was the first encounter you had with 3D printing? What was that experience like? What were you thinking at that moment?

Anna: I first started 3D printing during graduate school. My lab was collaborating with the engineering department to do some microfluidic printing. I wasn’t directly working on that project at first (I did all of my fabrication the traditional way, in the cleanroom). But I thought that 3D printing sounded like a lot of fun. So one day, after I received a scholarship bonus from the university, I went onto Amazon on bought a very small, user-friendly FDM printer. There were a lot of limitations to it, but for a hobby printer, it suited me very well for a few years.

What inspired you to start your journey?

Anna: As mentioned in Question 1, I started my graduate school work doing traditional cleanroom fabrication, but our lab was switching over to a 3D printing approach. I was always interested in the 3D printing we were doing, but it was only halfway through my degree that I was able to start switching my work over. I was very pleased with the transition, as 3D printing saved me a lot of time that I didn’t have to spend on device fabrication and could instead focus on experimentation.

Who inspired you the most along this journey?

Anna: My main mentors for 3D printing were my graduate advisor, Adam Woolley, and the professor of the lab we collaborated with, Greg Nordin. These two paved a lot of the path that I followed to get into printing and spinning Acrea 3D out of the university after graduation.

What motivates you the most for your work? 

Anna: My main motivation is to try to bring 3D printing to other labs that are working on projects similar to the one I was doing. Since I started with traditional manufacturing and switched to 3D printing, I feel like I have a good perspective of what it is like to be on both sides of the fence. Acrea 3D sells the 3D printer that was custom-built in Greg Nordin’s lab to meet the microfluidic needs that we had as users. We hope to carry the technology so that others can benefit from our work.

What is/are the biggest obstacle(s) in your line of work? If you have conquered them, what were your solutions? 

Anna: One of the biggest obstacles is educating our customers: trying to teach them what printer specifications are important and which are not, why a $100 printer from Amazon won’t cut it if you want <100 um features, etc. 3D printing is still a new industry that a lot of people are interested in and want to make the change, but they just don’t know what to look for yet.

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)?

Anna: I think one of the biggest challenges is getting projects to market. There are a lot of dreamers out there and a lot of really good potential applications. But there’s still work that needs to be done before they can come to market and actually make an impact on the world. My hope is that 3D printing is part of the solution to bridging this gap. I also think that a closer relationship between pharma, printing manufacturers, and researchers could help to bridge the gap.

What advice would you give to a smart driven college student in the “real world”? What bad advice you heard should they ignore? 

Anna: Your college work isn’t what you’ll be doing for the rest of your life. There’s still a lot of things that you’ll learn on the job. Those things are way more important to learn well.

What’s your favorite book you read this year and why? Alternatively, what’s your favorite book of all time you read and why?

Anna: I enjoyed “Waybound” by Will Wight. It is the finale of the 12-book Cradle Series, which is an anime-style series about a boy growing from a weak nobody to the strongest man on earth. It’s a lighthearted fiction, good for relaxing, with a good moral and clean style. I also think that Will Wight has a particular talent for writing engaging fight scenes.

Related Links:

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Interview with Natan Barros: 3D Bioprinting and Microfluidics

Interview with Taciana Pereira, 3D Bioprinting and Allevi

Bioprinting Vasculatures (On-Demand)

Interview: Professor Adam Feinberg, Carnegie Mellon University, CTO and co-founder FluidForm

3D Printing and Microfluidics (On Demand)

Guide: 3D Printing For Cancer Care

Interview with Elliot McAllister: 3D Printing Microfluidics