Keynote Speaker Invites You to 2018 Process Development Symposium (PDS)

Cristina Thomas is a senior technical leader within the corporate research and development (R&D) organization. Her team is responsible for providing services to the R&D community at 3M, including knowledge discovery and analytics, global technical learning and collaboration, government R&D contracts, and laboratory environmental, health, and safety. Cristina also serves as this year's keynote speaker at the 2018 Process Development Symposium (PDS) in Oak Brook, Illinois, located just outside Chicago. We recently spoke to Cristina to learn more about this conference.

The theme of this year’s Process Development Symposium is “Applying New Technologies in Process Development.” What are your thoughts or experiences with new technologies in process development?

At 3M, we believe the right science applied in the right way touches people worldwide, generating breakthroughs that make life better, easier, and more complete. We leverage our 46 technology platforms to solve customers’ problems. Among those 46 technology platforms, nine are notably processing technologies. As part of the 3M research and development community, I have experienced firsthand the joy of discovery, the power of curiosity, and the importance of determination to deliver new products and technologies to market. Delivering new products or solutions to our customers is only possible with the right processing technologies and the corresponding manufacturing implementations. We at 3M believe in collaborating with customers, both local and international, to further their product research and development efforts. By focusing on customers’ pain points and listening to their needs, we’ll continue to explore ways of leveraging 3M’s existing products and processing technologies to find new solutions for our customers. Those solutions are enabled by science.

3M conducted this year the State of Science Index global study exposing the general population’s attitudes toward science. Forty percent of respondents said that if science didn’t exist, their lives wouldn’t be that different. Yet, one of my first new product contributions was possible because of advances in processing technologies. Let me highlight two processing technology platforms to illustrate my experience: molding and microreplication. At 3M, we use molding to create complex and customized components in thermoplastic and thermosetting materials using advanced technologies that deliver high-performance solutions to our customers. Driven by the high tolerances demanded by these applications, we developed unique expertise in tool design, precision machining, metrology, and mold processing.

In my case, I worked in developing a product for traffic safety called a raised pavement marker. The product is molded using a material designed to withstand very high forces, including shear forces of a semi-truck hitting these markers at high speed. 3M pioneered the processing of tiny, precisely shaped structures to give materials new physical, chemical, or optical properties. Raised pavement markers function as traffic safety road markers because they contain microreplicated prisms that convey the ability to retroreflect light back to the driver.

Your keynote presentation, “3M Science: Combining 46 Core Technologies to Improve Daily Life” is set to kick off the Symposium. What are you hoping attendees take away from your presentation?

I hope to convey the importance of drawing on scientists' and engineers' curiosity and discovery to apply science to impact the world. At 3M, we not only invent products, but also are able to make them in our plants enabled by sophisticated processing and capability technologies. We are rooted in scientific exploration and discovery made possible by our fundamental strengths in technology and process development. I hope to illustrate how technology and process development, combined with our manufacturing footprint and capabilities, constitute fundamental strengths that allow us to apply, commercialize, and manufacture new technologies globally. In our State of Science Index, we learned 36 percent believe only geniuses can have a career in science. Despite general misunderstandings about science, respondents revealed that excitement for the future of advancements is high.

3M science is everywhere. 3M processing technologies are fundamentally important for delivering the promise of "3M Science. Applied to Life."  Understanding what the public thinks about science's impact on the world, the study reveals different attitudes among countries and across generations. The world is becoming more technologically advanced every day and science is driving those technology breakthroughs, including breakthroughs showing how predictive engineering and modeling applied to manufacturing processes yields the promise of our brand.

As a 3M researcher, I—along with many other process developers at 3M—am able to harness sophisticated computer modeling and simulation technologies. This made it possible, for example, to predict optimal material properties for the construction of the raised pavement marker, address patenting issues, and design a new product, all while accelerating the development. We refer to this as predictive engineering and modeling. Thanks to "virtual" prototyping and experimentation, we can speed up the delivery of valuable new processes across all 3M businesses and markets. 

I also hope to convey a unique appreciation for the wonder of science and the engineering that happens every day at the manufacturing plants. I have had the fortune of working at the plants. I have worked with state-of-the-art coating equipment that allows us to coat optically clear adhesives. I spent a good chunk of a late-night shift waiting for the results of a first “scale-up” experiment to confirm our design predicated by computer modeling and simulation. I have waited anxiously for results of many such runs. It is such a proud moment when one is able to corroborate the hypothesis for a new process!

Please tell us about your role in 3M and how process development is important for you.

Today, I lead 3M's Corporate Research and Development (R&D) Services Center. This group is within Corporate Research and Development under 3M’s senior R&D VP and CTO. Its mission is to provide essential services to the global R&D organization. These services or functions include knowledge discovery and analytics, digital knowledge and collaboration, global technical learning and collaboration, government R&D and laboratory environmental, health and safety support. These services contribute to connecting and combining technologies in general, and to the application of processing technologies, in particular.

The passion that other R&D leaders and I have for leading organizations that draw on science and that move new technologies and new product platforms into market are indeed second to none. R&D managers work side by side with our technical experts to ensure the rewards of seeing the fruits of hands-on hard work commercialized.

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Cristina Thomas

Cristina has more than 25 years of technical and leadership experience in research and development organizations. She joined 3M in 1992 as a senior research engineer in the Life Sciences Sector laboratory after completing undergraduate degrees in chemistry and mathematics in Venezuela and a Ph.D. in chemical engineering in 1992 (specializing in polymer science and engineering) from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. 

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