YCN Industry in the Spot: Ambra Patterlini (Lincotek Medical Trento SpA, Italy) and Giovanni Urruth Bruno (Marion Technologies, France)

Interview of Ambra and Giovanni lead by Nicolas Somers, YCN committee member,

Hello Ambra and Giovanni

Can you describe briefly your PhD project and your companies? 

Ambra: My PhD project focuses on additive manufacturing of semi-porous ceramic parts for orthopaedic applications. Additive Manufacturing (AM) and 3D printing are becoming more and more popular in the medical field: some markets are already well-established, as for metal implants, and this make companies invest more and more on AM applications and research. I’m mainly based in Lincotek Trento (Italy). The company group, Lincotek, has 16 facilities all over the world with several businesses and markets: Surface Solutions, Equipment, Additive and Medical. In Trento we focus on Medical and Additive and I work with both R&D teams due to my multi-discipline PhD topic.

Giovanni: The main idea of the PhD project is to develop, tailor and validate ceramic powders for additive manufacturing (AM). Our starting strategy was to optimize highly demanded powders, like alumina and zirconia, for Powder Bed Selective Laser Processing (also known as Selective Laser Sintering/Melting) and Digital Light Processing. After that, we started to work also with some bio and piezoelectric ceramics. I’m based in a company called Marion Technologies, which is specialized in the characterization and in the custom-made production of ceramic powders and nanostructured materials for industrial uses. Considering that a trustable feedstock chain is still a challenge in the AM sector, Marion Technologies is making a huge effort to be one of the first to stablish a wide range of ceramic powders specifically for this market. 

For you, what are the main advantages to do a PhD in a company? 

Ambra: I think the main difference between academic and industrial research is that when in a company you are working on something that must be sold and, if possible, easily and in the short-term. This can bring advantages and disadvantages, but it certainly requires to consider different ‘parameters’ that are not priorities for the academic research: market analysis, possible customers, existing or expired patents, specific requirements to be met. This results in the development of skills and knowledge not strictly related to pure research, that can be very useful for various other domains and personal career.

Giovanni: Well, as it is expected, a company work on subjects of interest that follows their business proposal. The interesting part for me is that Marion Technologies’ R&D team embraces the development of new materials and methods, allowing me to be creative and develop very innovative approaches. Also, the mindset is stimulating, being very efficient-based and always keeping in mind the challenges of scaling up the process from the lab environment to an industrial production site. So, it’s always important to add in the equation the viability of scaling up the product in question.  
Doing a PhD in a company brings you a similar experience as working there as engineer, chemist, physicist, manager, etc. 

And then, what are the main disadvantages to do a PhD in a company? 

Ambra: Working on marketable products can sometimes limit the innovation in our research: if we go ‘too far’ from what already exists it would be harder to respect national or international standards and to obtain patents, especially in the medical field. Also, the industrial environment is the result of a coordination system between several different departments, from production to sale, from suppliers to customers, and R&D is a part of it. This means that expertise (and experts) focus on specific applications, thus having daily scientific discussion and debate with other PhD students and researcher of similar (or different) domains is not so common as in academy.

Giovanni: Speaking from my past experiences, I’d say that the rhythm is much more accelerated. Even though, the feeling of having more results pays off quite well. Working on a project in academia or industry can be very similar in some cases and very different in others. I guess it always depends on the researcher profile, the project objectives and the environment you work in. Maybe the important part is to identify the similarities you have with the place you are and the people you work with, then use it in your favour to maximize your satisfaction during research. 

Do you recommend young researchers to make a thesis in the industry? 

Ambra: I’d say it depends on what you want to do with your life, dear young researchers which is an answer that probably doesn’t help at all! But well, if you are not 100% sure that your future is in the academy, I think that a PhD in a company is a perfect opportunity to do research while start knowing the way it is combined with business, as well as developing parallel skills and working in a heterogeneously stimulating environment.

Giovanni: Absolutely! In my point of view, since most of the students has already passed a considered amount of time in university environment, doing a PhD in industry can be very fruitful. You are going to learn a lot, new skills, new visions, new approaches. Even if one might have plans to work, teach or do research in academia, this could be an early opportunity to be sure of that plan, and at least, be aware of how it’s like in the other “side”.

Lincotek Medical Trento SpA (Italy) - ambrapaterlini@eurocoating.it

MARION TECHNOLOGIES (France) - giovanni.urruth-bruno@mariontechnologies.com