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My Swedish Career: ‘I saw a glaring gap, so I set up my own 3D-printing business’

Aeroplanes, racing cars, and kitchen taps have something in common: they are all examples of how aerodynamics are used in everyday life.

My Swedish Career: 'I saw a glaring gap, so I set up my own 3D-printing business'
Chris Ford has set up a company offering 3D printing for researchers. Photo: Sara Pålsson

British researcher Chris Ford has worked in experimental aerodynamics for years, and came to Sweden in 2014, enticed by the reputation of Stockholm's Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) as a leader in the field.

“For me, the draw was KTH rather than Sweden itself; I'd seen lots of exciting work come out of there and it's very well renowned, so I just took the opportunity and was excited to move to a different country,” he told The Local.

Aerodynamics is a large, diverse field, but most of Ford's work has been connected to a specific industry, for example gas turbine engines. Researchers study how airflows behave in machines such as engines, turbines, and pipelines, with the aim of adjusting the flows to improve efficiency and reduce energy loss.

If that sounds complex, it's because it is, so it's important that the equipment used for these tests is created to precise measurements to ensure accurate results.

3D-printing means that small, custom-designed objects can be manufactured with a great degree of precision for tests, and it's cheaper and easier than creating these tools using machines, but when he moved to Sweden in 2014, Ford noticed that the technique was barely used by his department at all.

With a tin of Swedish fermented herring. Photo: Sara Pålsson

His experience inspired him to set up his own company, Felima, which offers 3D printing and scanning for the research community.

“The idea for the business had been in the back of my mind for a long time,” he explains. “In my work in the UK, there were sometimes technical issues when we got parts 3D-printed for our work, because the needs of researchers are very specific.”

“When I saw it wasn't being used in Sweden, that was a glaring gap for me, so I started researching my idea more seriously,” he adds. “Basically, I thought it would be a good idea to set up a company tailored for the needs of the research community.”

Moving to Sweden gave him the impetus to get the idea off the ground. Not only did he see that there was a real need for the service, but the famous Swedish work-life balance left him with more time outside work to think over the idea for the business. Swedes, he says, are better than many other nationalities at knowing when they need to take a break from work – and actually doing it.

“At universities in England, I've found there's an expectation that you work all the time, and if you want to go on holiday, that's seen as strange. This year, when I told my supervisor that I was going to England for a week, he said 'OK, but are you going to have any real holiday?'” Ford recalls.


A post shared by Felima3D (@felima3d) on Oct 2, 2017 at 1:42am PDT

The more relaxed environment took some adjusting to, but it was also the spark he needed to take the leap and make the business happen.

Felima offers 3D printing and scanning for researchers, and Ford hopes to expand the business to offer consultancy work as well, so that he can use his knowledge and experience of aerodynamics to help others.

Most of the items he has been commissioned to design are very technical, such as valves or exhaust pipes, but he has also experimented with product design, and shares the results on an Instagram page. For example, he has created custom-designed USB sticks which he gives to customers when he needs to share data with them.


A post shared by Felima3D (@felima3d) on Jul 14, 2017 at 3:02am PDT

Another product he's worked on is a small character which 'carries' cables, helping to keep them organized.
“In order to design them and work out their poses I had to lie on the floor and pretend to climb things, and take photos so I could see what I looked like!” he remembers.

A post shared by Felima3D (@felima3d) on Sep 2, 2017 at 2:41am PDT

Setting up a business in Sweden, he says, was a more straightforward process than expected, and he hasn't found the Swedish culture too different from that of England.

“In a lot of ways it's the same as working in England, you get up and go to work every morning,” he says. “For me, it was easy to settle in to Sweden, although I was very lucky as the lab at KTH was very friendly and accommodating, and my landlord helped me out a lot.”

As for the toughest part of the move, Ford says that relearning to ride a bike on Swedish roads was difficult. “It's not true that you never forget!”

There was an upside, however, and Ford says that two of his close friends in Sweden were people he met when he fell off the bike.

In contrast to the typical expat gripe that Swedes are reserved or standoffish, Ford says he has found all the people he's met to be sociable and chatty. “That's been lucky, because I'm not that sociable!” he laughs. “So it was in a way hard to meet people here, and I struggle a bit with networking, but I'd find that difficult anywhere in the world.”