Maryam Al Kuwaiti’s de­gree took her to Strata Man­u­fac­tur­ing, where she uses 3D print­ing to build Eti­had aircraft cabin in­te­ri­ors. James Lang­ton re­ports

The National - News - - NEWS -

In the deserts of Al Ain, a young Emi­rati woman called Maryam Al Kuwaiti is work­ing on a project that could rev­o­lu­tionise the avi­a­tion in­dus­try. As a man­u­fac­tur­ing engi­neer at Strata Man­u­fac­tur­ing, she is one of the first Emi­ratis ex­plor­ing the po­ten­tial of 3D print­ing tech­nol­ogy for in­dus­try.

Along with Siemens and Eti­had Air­ways, Strata is work­ing on the re­gion’s first 3D printed aircraft in­te­rior parts. It is an ex­cit­ing project that aims to har­ness tech­nol­ogy to de­velop more ap­proaches to man­u­fac­tur­ing in the Mid­dle East.

For Ms Al Kuwaiti, be­ing in­volved in this work vin­di­cates her de­ci­sion to pur­sue me­chan­i­cal engi­neer­ing. She saw it as an “ex­cit­ing and di­verse” field – and she is en­cour­ag­ing more young Emi­ratis to find out, through WorldSkills Abu Dhabi 2017, how they can turn their hopes into re­al­ity.

Ms Al Kuwaiti, who is from Al Ain, was the first in her fam­ily to study me­chan­i­cal engi­neer­ing, earn­ing a bach­e­lor of sci­ence from United Arab Emi­rates Univer­sity.

“It was to­tally new for me,” the 25-year-old says. “But I liked hav­ing hands-on ex­pe­ri­ence, and other engi­neer­ing fields are not as hands-on as me­chan­i­cal engi­neer­ing.

“There are, how­ever, many branches – ro­bot­ics, aero­space, oth­ers – and at first I didn’t know ex­actly what I wanted to do. So, through sev­eral in­tern­ships abroad, I tried to ex­plore them all.”

The first was at the Univer­sity of Ox­ford, fol­lowed by an­other at Glob­alFoundries, a semi­con­duc­tor com­pany. But it was the third in­tern­ship, with aircraft man­u­fac­turer Air­bus in Toulouse, that proved to be her “flash­bulb mo­ment”.

“I was amazed by what I saw there, and I knew this was the field I wanted to con­cen­trate on,” she re­calls. “It was a huge and chal­leng­ing in­dus­try, one which the UAE also en­vi­sions big things for. At that point, I had a feel­ing of self-re­al­i­sa­tion, and that I wanted to be a lead­ing fac­tor in the growth of this in­dus­try in the UAE.”

Ms Al Kuwaiti made what she sees as “the nat­u­ral choice” to join Strata, wholly-owned by Mubadala. Based at Ni­bras Al Ain Aero­space Park, it part­ners with the big­gest names in aircraft man­u­fac­tur­ing, in­clud­ing Air­bus and Boe­ing.

Its fo­cus on aerostruc­ture man­u­fac­tur­ing meant it was a per­fect fit for her.

“It’s also a rel­a­tively young com­pany, so I knew I would learn quickly,” she says. “I ap­plied be­fore I grad­u­ated in 2014, had my sum­mer va­ca­tion, and when I came back I started straight away – meet­ing new peo­ple and learn­ing new pro­ce­dures dur­ing one of the com­pany’s busiest weeks of the year. I was im­me­di­ately in­volved with the com­pany’s core projects and I loved it.”

Three years on, Ms Al Kuwaiti sits in the “clean room” of Strata’s huge plant over­see­ing pro­duc­tion lines as a mem­ber of the ma­te­ri­als and pro­cess­ing team. Their tech­ni­cal knowl­edge is es­sen­tial to transforming raw ma­te­ri­als into aircraft parts, main­tain­ing qual­ity and pro­vid­ing tech­ni­cal sup­port.

“Every aircraft com­po­nent must go through spe­cific stages, and we also have to find so­lu­tions to prob­lems by us­ing our tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise. Every day you walk down the pro­duc­tion line and face a new chal­lenge. That’s what I like.”

Strata has al­ready de­vel­oped 3D printed parts for Eti­had Air­ways cabin in­te­ri­ors. The aim is to ex­pand the project into a three-year “joint road map” with Siemens and Strata, out­lin­ing the next steps for the in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion of 3D print­ing and the pro­duc­tion of com­plex aircraft com­po­nents, on de­mand, for cus­tomers in the re­gion. It also has the po­ten­tial to open up train­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for UAE cit­i­zens.

Ms Al Kuwaiti’s role fo­cuses on the man­u­fac­tur­ing of the 3D part. It is a process that can take hours or even days to print, but it is sig­nif­i­cantly cheaper than ma­chine-pro­duced parts. The process, which in­volves creat­ing 3D ob­jects from layer upon layer of ma­te­rial, also gives engi­neers free­dom to de­sign and cre­ate light­weight com­po­nents, as­sem­ble them into a sin­gle part, and op­ti­mise their per­for­mance.

“With this project, we are look­ing to show the ca­pa­bil­i­ties we have in the UAE, and demon­strate that we are able to do these things in such a short time,” she says.

Aircraft com­po­nents must go through stages, and we have to find so­lu­tions to prob­lems us­ing our ex­per­tise MARYAM AL KUWAITI Man­u­fac­tur­ing engi­neer at Strata

She ad­dressed se­nior gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials at the Global Man­u­fac­tur­ing and In­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion Sum­mit in Abu Dhabi this year, as part of a sum­mary of Strata’s work and plans. “I pre­sented the 3D printed screen shroud, the first part to be cer­ti­fied and in­stalled in an aircraft in­te­rior in the Mena re­gion,” she says. “That was a big high­light for me.”

She has also pub­lished an aca­demic pa­per on com­pos­ite ma­te­ri­als as part of her mas­ter’s de­gree stud­ies in me­chan­i­cal engi­neer­ing at UAEU.

Ms Al Kuwaiti is en­cour­aged by the in­creas­ing num­ber of women study­ing in her field. Eighty six per cent of Strata’s Emi­rati work­force is fe­male, and Ms Al Kuwaiti be­lieves women are be­gin­ning to make a mark there.

She hopes to see more young, tal­ented Emi­rati fe­males seek in­tern­ships in the aero­space man­u­fac­tur­ing field, in­clud­ing Strata, where, she says: “I was sur­rounded by male col­leagues from many coun­tries when I started, but I never felt daunted.

“I would en­cour­age Emi­rati fe­males to ap­ply for jobs in this in­dus­try be­cause the world is mov­ing to­ward a Fourth In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion – or In­dus­try 4.0 – and this is lead­ing to break­throughs in ad­vanced man­u­fac­tur­ing and creat­ing ‘smart fac­to­ries’, where peo­ple and ma­chines work to­gether seam­lessly.

“The UAE plans to be a big player in In­dus­try 4.0, so there is, and will be, a need for engi­neers and peo­ple with the nec­es­sary vo­ca­tional skills to play a role.”

About to fin­ish her mas­ter’s de­gree, Ms Al Kuwaiti is keen to pur­sue a PhD in me­chan­i­cal engi­neer­ing.

Later this year, she will be tak­ing an in­ter­na­tional man­u­fac­tur­ing train­ing in­tern­ship at Boe­ing. But at the mo­ment she is fo­cused on “be­ing bet­ter at my job, con­tin­u­ing to learn, and con­tin­u­ing to chal­lenge my­self”.

As some­one who un­der­stands the value of choos­ing an ex­cit­ing ca­reer, as well as the im­por­tance of a skilled work­force to the UAE’s eco­nomic di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion mis­sion, she hopes WorldSkills Abu Dhabi 2017 will open eyes, and new hori­zons.

Paul Driscoll

Maryam Al Kuwaiti casts an eye over a com­po­nent dur­ing an in­spec­tion at Strata’s fa­cil­ity near Al Ain.

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