Back in 2015 I was given the opportunity that not many are granted – the opportunity to build an AM centre from an (almost) blank slate. I say “almost” as I was handed over a big, dank warehouse-like space full of old, neglected research equipment in various states of disrepair and misuse. Thankfully for me, an excellent project coordinator was already on the job of allocating new spaces for the equipment, either a new lab or, the more likely option, a dumpster bin.
There were already a few people on the task of down-selecting and spec’ing different AM machines for this new space, and a team of architects and building services staff putting together a plan for rejuvenating this old space into something that would look extraordinary. With that, a small team was beginning to emerge, and my task was to bring it, the vision, and the team of people, all together.
The schedule for this project was a thing to behold, and thanks to the diligence of everyone involved, went off more or less without a hitch. The big space had been cleared out, painted from top to bottom, auxiliary services were upgraded, and importantly, numerous safety upgrades for metal powders were put in place. The old, dank warehouse had been transformed into a light-filled, bright and airy space befitting of a modern and high-tech showpiece centre of AM innovation. The architects had really worked their magic on the visitor and foyer space which looked more like a New York style loft apartment than a meeting space at a research institute.
Delivery day arrived and we all marvelled at the huge crates containing precious, highly priced AM machines. One of the team members who had been intensely involved with the procurement of a particular machine named it her “million-dollar baby”. Certainly, the machine had about a nine-month waiting time, the delivery had its pangs of pain, and there were plenty of teething problems that ensued after arrival!
The week of installation was unfortunately timed with a short trip I had to make for a conference talk. In hindsight, leaving my team at this time was not the right thing to do. They managed well, but a good captain doesn’t abandon ship at a critical time. It resulted in needing to arbitrate a small turf war via email, which for physical spaces just doesn’t work that well remotely (a lesson we are all no doubt learning more about currently!). Nevertheless, I came back to a glorious sight – two new metal machines installed, one metal machine relocated, and a rather large sand printer humming away already. I promised the team that travel was off my agenda for the foreseeable future and I was duly forgiven.
Such a special space deserved a very special launch, so we planned a celebration to coincide with our national manufacturing week. An invitation was delivered to our federal minister for Industry and Science as more of an aspirational goal, but lo and behold we received a reply that he would ‘maybe’ appear and, don’t worry “you’ll receive 24 hours’ notice if he does.”
The week leading up to that launch had all hands on deck filling display cabinets, designing informative banners, collecting every single stand-up sign we could muster, and generally just trying to make the space look less like a nice warehouse full of machines, and more like an innovation centre of research and learning. One team member had done a beautiful job designing a commemorative plaque for the event but when it came time to press print, that million-dollar baby threw a bit of a hissy fit. The team worked well into the night to get the machine running, and we all crossed our fingers as the print button was pressed the next morning.
With twenty-four hours to launch we received notification that the minister would indeed be joining us. Just as well, as the plaque that was just being cut off the plate (successful print – yay!) had his name on it. We did a last-minute dash around to sweep the floor, straighten the displays, set up for our guests, fine-tune the agenda for the umpteenth time, check that machines were happy, and went home exhausted but excited.
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Suffice to say the day was a huge and memorable success. Our CEO, senior management, all our stakeholders, major industry partners, and anyone who had been involved in the centre’s success was there. The minister arrived with his entourage, gave an excellent speech, announced the centre open, and we all cheered and took happy snaps. We celebrated well past dinner time, and like any good party, it finished with a few stragglers winding down feeling happy and a bit sentimental.
I know that I sound a bit Pollyanna-ish when I say that without the team, none of this would have happened. Nevertheless, it is true. Everything from securing the funding, preparing the space, procuring, installing and commissioning the machines, and holding the launch, took a league of excellent people who were all committed to a common vision. While I was the person tasked with bringing it all together, this mission was much bigger than me. It was a dream that started big and grew bigger over time, but there was a corresponding team that was equal to the challenge. We were unified by a common goal, we fostered a high-trust environment, we all knew our part to play, and everyone took responsibility for the big tasks and the small, less exciting ones too. As a result, we now have something we can point to and say, “we did that”. It’s a fabulous feeling.