3D innovator: Fred Carter

  • ASI Lead Engineer at DMG MORI USA (Chicago, IL)
  • M.Eng., Mechanical Engineering, Lehigh University, 2016
  • M.Eng., Technical Entrepreneurship, Lehigh University, 2014
  • B.A., German, Lehigh University, 2012
Lehigh’s M.Eng. in TE program offers students a terrific platform for learning. The investment I made in this degree has already paid valuable career dividends.
-Fred Carter

Fred Carter had no clear career path in mind when he enrolled as a first-year student at Lehigh University. By the time he completed a master’s degree in Technical Entrepreneurship (TE), all of that had changed in a big – multi-dimensional! – way.

Your undergraduate degree was in German. Tell us about that.

As I was going through the college selection process, people would ask what I wanted to major in, and I never really had a good answer. I'd always been interested in engineering, but found myself pulled in other directions as well. Right from the start, however, German courses were a constant in my class schedule. I'd spent seven months in Karben, Germany as a high school exchange student, and I loved the language and the culture. In the end, I earned a B.A. in German.

So why did you decide to enroll in Lehigh's TE master's program?

In 2011, while I was still a Lehigh undergrad, I launched a startup called Carter3Productions (C3P). An entertainment promotion company, C3P provided services and coordinated events for local arts organizations. We operated from 2011 to 2013. It was this venture that really sparked my curiosity about entrepreneurship.

The Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity and Innovation had provided CP3 with co-working space on campus, and I shared that space with Randi Tutelman, who was in her TE year at the time. [Randi earned her TE degree in 2013 and spent the first few years post-TE running Eleanor Kalle, a NYC-based custom jewelry brand she co-founded.] Randi and I spoke a lot about the program, the courses, and the hands-on experiences. I decided that this would be a logical next step for me—a good way to explore my early interest in engineering and emerging interest in entrepreneurship.

And did the program live up to your expectations?

It did! The physical space and the creativity lab, in particular, created a dynamic which had a huge impact on my life. These facilities enabled me to work with 3D printers, which ultimately defined my career path. And the focus is on continuous improvement. For example, there are many more 3D printers available now than there were when I went through the program.

Are there any experiences you had during TE that were especially meaningful for you?

Two come to mind right away. One was being invited to speak at the 2014 National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance conference in San Jose, CA. I talked about the TE program and the lab space. The Baker Institute provided some support for my trip, and the whole experience was amazing. The other one that comes to mind is the class trip we took to Boston for a deep dive into the startup environment in the area.

How did your mindset evolve as a result of your year in TE?

I now think more systematically in terms of innovating and generating viable ideas, and I now know how to execute the steps that follow. This gives me an edge over people who may have great ideas, but little or no understanding of how to move them forward. Also, I'd say that I now think more creatively when solving problems—often coming up with things you might not expect from an engineer!

What skills did you develop in TE?

I'd always been intrigued by 3D work and the whole mix of design, drafting, and architecture. TE pushed this further along. During that year, I built a series of plastic 3D printers, and toward the end, I started working on a metal 3D printer. The experience transformed an interest—something I'd considered a hobby—into a skill set that has since led to a profession.

More specifically, I gained skills in such areas as prototyping, concept sketching, systematic innovation, startup cash flow and finance modeling, and startup dynamics and agreements. And I learned how to deliver succinct presentations about complex topics. The lessons learned in TE are very applicable, transferrable, and relevant.

What did you do immediately after receiving your M.Eng. in TE?

I decided to stay at Lehigh for an advanced degree in Mechanical Engineering (ME), primarily so that I could keep moving in the additive manufacturing industry. I was one semester shy of completing my master's when an amazing opportunity presented itself.

Please go on!

My current employer, Sciaky, had a position available and reached out to Lehigh for possible candidate recommendations. They were looking for someone with experience in 3D metal printing. My advisor, Dr. Harlow [Professor and Department Chair, Mechanical Engineering and Mechanics], recommended me since I had built my own 3D metal printer and had obvious passion for the field. The thing was, though, I had another semester to go on my degree, and they wanted me to start immediately. In the end, we worked it out so that I could take the job with Sciaky, move to Chicago, and complete my M.Eng. in ME long distance. Maybe I should have done that sooner—somehow I was able to juggle it all and still earn a 4.0 in my final semester!

Tell us about Sciaky.

Founded in 1939, Sciaky is a privately held Chicago-based company—a subsidiary of Phillips Service Industries—with about 50 employees. We manufacture 3D printing systems used to produce huge metal pieces. Some of our parts are more than 10 feet long. Our exclusive Electron Beam Additive Manufacturing process leads the market for large-scale metal parts such as structural aircraft components, propellant tanks, and variable ballast tanks. We also provide state-of-the-art welding services to the aerospace, defense, nuclear, automotive, and medical industries. Our machines and systems have international distribution and big impact: our technology produces components at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, and recently we sold one of our machines to Airbus, a leader in the aerospace industry.

You serve as an Additive Manufacturing Engineer. What are your responsibilities?

It depends on the week, to be completely honest. We're a small group at Sciaky, so I wear a lot of hats. I work on the advancement of our technology, which generally is related to sensor and control improvements. I also do a lot of data analysis and simulation, as well as toolpath programming. While most of what I do is engineering calculations, my position involves more business-oriented tasks as well, such as managing project timelines and mapping out the process for getting from start to finish.

How have you applied your new mindset and new skills since receiving your degree?

Both come into play every day, of course, but they've also have helped me to achieve other goals. For example, I've already had one paper published, and I have a second one going through the review process right now.

Do you have any specific career goals that you would want to share?

In the short term, I'd like to further my knowledge of the additive industry. Eventually, I hope to become an expert in the field—doing presentations at conferences, publishing papers, and establishing myself as an authority.

How would you sum up what TE did for you?

TE connected the dots. It unveiled my true passion and led to two master's degrees in engineering. In a way, it led me to where I was supposed to be all along.