Faculty Profile: Ola Harrysson

When they are young, many students dream of becoming professional athletes, high-profile chefs, or movie stars. Dr. Ola Harrysson, Fitts Distinguished Professor, had a different idea of what he wanted to be when he grew up

In Sweden, Dr. Harrysson’s home country, students select a career path in high school and follow that throughout their life. Dr. Harrysson had a passion for engineering early in his education and his interests varied widely, from becoming an electrical engineer to designing submarines for the Royal Swedish Navy. So when it came time to choose from a pool of 10-15 academic tracks, 14-year-old Dr. Harrysson selected mechanical engineering, and he began to learn about statics, dynamics, and CAD.

Dr. Harrysson continued his mechanical engineering studies at Sweden’s Dala University, where he concentrated in product development. After graduating, he moved to the United States to pursue his master’s degree at the University of Central Florida and shifted his focus to industrial engineering.

At UCF, he developed an interest in additive manufacturing and hoped to pursue a career in the field, but discovered that the only available jobs were in the automobile industry in Detroit, Michigan. “Why not?” Dr. Harrysson asked his academic advisor, “I like cars.” However, his advisor suggested that he wait for an opening in another industry. Hoping to bide his time until additive manufacturing expanded, Dr. Harrysson began taking Ph.D. courses.

During this time, he began conducting research in the medical field and studied the use of additives to create custom implants. As he was completing his Ph.D., his new goal was to work in the orthopedic industry. When beginning to search for a job, however, he discovered that these positions required 10 years of experience.

Dr. Harrysson remembers when he came across a job posting from NC State seeking a manufacturing professor with an interest in conducting research. “I was a Ph.D. student at the time and wasn’t sure whether I had enough experience for the role,” he said. “I emailed former ISE faculty member Dr. Denis Cormier about the position, and he encouraged me to apply.” With that boost of confidence, he submitted his resume for consideration. After interviewing with several members of the department, they offered him the job.

A Fortunate Meeting

When he arrived on campus in August 2002, Dr. Harrysson found that the department only owned an old 3D wax printer. As he and Dr. Cormier aspired to build an additive facility on campus, they began applying for additional funding. It was during this time that the professors attended the Solid Freeform Fabrication Symposium and had a fortunate meeting.

“During a coffee break on the first day, Denis pointed to three men having a conversation and asked me, ‘Are they speaking Swedish?’ And sure enough, they were!” Dr. Harrysson explained. “I decided to go over and introduce myself.”

As luck would have it, one of the men was an inventor for the Swedish company Arcam, had developed an electron-beam melting machine. The company had been working on its technology for seven years and was now ready to release the machine for the first time.

“We were very interested in being their first customer in the United States, and Arcam was excited by the idea of selling to a university, as we would be able to make the machine visible to the public,” Dr. Harrysson explained.

In a department meeting, the department head asked Dr. Harrysson why NC State should buy the Arcam machine. “It’s the future,” he responded. After brief negotiations with Arcam, NC State became the home of the first commercial Arcam machine.

“Denis and I traveled to Sweden during spring break in 2003 for 10 days of training on the machine,” he recalled. “At the end of our visit, we packed ourselves, and the machine, and flew back to North Carolina together.”

Making a Difference

Dr. Harrysson’s work on campus also extends into osseointegration, helping doctors at the School of Veterinary Medicine use technology to create prosthetics for animals. When asked about how he got started in that practice, Dr. Harrysson remembers his first patient vividly.

“There was a cat that showed up at the vet school without its back paws. It was accustomed to pulling itself around using only its front paws,” he explained. “The cat’s owners had tried everything they could think of to help their pet, so they came to ask for our help.”

Dr. Harrysson began researching options for the cat and discovered a potential osseointegration solution from Sweden. “They were willing to give it a try, so we had the titanium implant machined by another company and performed the surgery, which was a success!” In the last decade, Dr. Harrysson and the veterinary school have completed several successful implants for cats and dogs, bringing joy and relief to the animals and their owners.

Looking Forward

Dr. Harrysson looks forward to continuing his work at NC State with the Center for Additive Manufacturing and Logistics (CAMAL). CAMAL received one of eight laser-printing machines granted by GE, heralding the program as one of the top in the country.

In addition, a NASA grant has also given Dr. Harrysson and CAMAL the opportunity to develop a curriculum for additive manufacturing that anyone who wants to teach a course can use. “I hope this curriculum will help schools with less access to technology offer their students additional learning opportunities in the industrial engineering field,” he said.

Though Dr. Harrysson never imagined he would be pioneering the additive manufacturing field from Raleigh, he has always known he was destined to be an engineer.