Sheila Díaz Vaquero is a research engineer at ArcelorMittal Global R&D Asturias in Avilés, Spain.


She is researching new applications for 3D printing technology to improve the company's steel production processes and the products it makes. She shares her experience of what it's like to work with cutting edge technologies to revolutionise how steel is made and what it is used for.

I have ridden motorbikes since I was 13-years-old.

I love anything with an engine, so my dad and I used to spend most weekends “playing” in the car workshop we’d turned our garage into.

Hard-to-answer questions fascinate me too. I’d like to think that’s because my parents dedicated a lot of time to helping my younger sister and I with our homework, explaining things we didn’t understand and in doing so, instilling a love of learning in us.

So, neither my dad, nor the rest of my family – not even my friends – were surprised when I expressed an ambition to study mechanical things when I grew up.

I trained as a mechanical design engineer at the University of Oviedo, in Asturias, Spain. I joined ArcelorMittal in March 2015.

I had finished my studies six months earlier and was working for another company, when I received an offer from ArcelorMittal’s Junior Research Program. I’ve always been a very curious, proactive, science enthusiast who enjoys facing new challenges every day, so I felt research and development was a perfect way for me to channel my interests. The offer was for a two-year contract, during which time I would work while training as a research engineer.

So, I left the job I had to move to ArcelorMittal Global R&D Asturias where I was tasked with researching potential applications of 3D printing, (or additive manufacturing as it is called when applied on an industrial scale like we do here.) For those unfamiliar with 3D printing, it is a computer-controlled process which creates three dimensional objects by depositing materials, usually in layers.

I didn’t know anything about this style of manufacturing when I came here, so not only was I starting a new job, at a new company, in a new engineering discipline, to study something totally unfamiliar to me, I was combining all of this with the training that would help me succeed in my new role.

And I needed to learn a great deal! I studied: steelmaking, chemistry, metallurgy, teamwork and financial and project management through courses available on the company’s online university. I also had to master several new software packages for additive manufacturing and change the way I approach my work. As a mechanical engineer, I had used computer aided design (CAD) software to design parts to solve familiar problems in largely the same way every day. I encountered few challenges I didn’t know how to solve. As a research engineer, the opposite is true. I don’t have the answers and need to figure out how to find them. It’s about learning every day rather than being an ‘expert’.

Learning so much so quickly was a real challenge, but the effort was worthwhile because I gained a lot of skills in those two years that have helped me develop personally and professionally. Before I took on the role, I hadn’t quite realised how technology-driven the steel industry is, the scale of the opportunities in it for people with career aspirations like mine, or even how many other young people are also attracted to high-tech careers in research and development. Being surrounded by brilliant, friendly people who challenge me to grow makes each day in the office a joy and benefits my development and my career too. We’ve built a great team!

A team that collaborates across research disciplines to spot the gaps in available technologies – and the market – to create new research areas and explore new ways of improving production and even to create new steel products.

For instance, once we’d learned it is possible to 3D print in metal, we began to explore the potential of printing spare parts for our steelmaking operations – we are a steel company, after all!

This led us to think we could save ourselves the time and expense of sourcing and stocking spare parts. The Internet of Things is making it possible to record and analyse performance data about every part in our lines to accurately predict when it will break down. By printing our own custom parts on a just-in-time basis, we can reduce inventory and improve efficiency, while enhancing the steelmaking process with bespoke solutions.

After a year or so of providing such parts to our production plants, we decided to consider how we might design new parts that would improve the steelmaking process itself. We’re also exploring how we could use additive material to improve our products, such as reinforcing certain areas of steel sheet, to deliver levels of performance that have not been possible until now. I’m sure these projects will in turn lead us to explore other applications for additive manufacturing. We never stop learning!

I truly believe research is the key to most of society’s issues: disease, climate change, wellbeing, inequality, and so on. If I could be known for only one thing in my life, I’d like it to be for improving our steelmaking process to: minimise its impact on the environment as much as possible; improve the health and safety of my colleagues through the customisation of parts which ease their daily work; make cars safer through our steel products and enable the building of houses and schools in under-resourced communities. In other words, to make the world a better place.

In my opinion, all this only can be done if we trust in new technologies and research. This is why I love working in R&D. My colleagues and I engage with interesting companies all over the world and are at the cutting edge of very impressive technological developments. We are lucky to be riding the crest of a wave of technology and the work we are doing here makes me very proud. It also makes me feel I’m closer to being able to start “changing the world”, at least a little.

For me, a lover of science, research, change and challenge, this is my dream career. Every day counts, so being happy in what I do and doing it with passion is very important to me. I feel privileged to enjoy an exciting environment here at ArcelorMittal Global R&D, where every project and every day is different. By channeling my passions into work I really love, I believe I get better results; am more resilient in the face of adversity, and am fulfilled and happy in myself.

Since those early days in my dad’s garage, my family has supported me in chasing my dreams and have shared in my successes – and my failures too. So, when I achieve my ambition of changing the world, they will have done it with me.