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Women of Distiction: Cathy Lewis

March 31, 2013


Over the past 11 years, the OutputLinks Communications Group has recognized 79 presidents and CEOs, senior managers, educators, consultants and other industry professionals as Women of Distinction. Selection is based on industry experience, leadership skills and participation in HVTO associations and events.

Cathy Lewis, a 2006 Woman of Distinction, spent the first two decades of her professional career in senior-level positions with Siemens, Xerox and IKON. Almost seven years ago she became the CEO of Desktop Factory, a California-based startup.

3D Systems acquired Desktop Factory in 2009, and Lewis came aboard as Vice President of Global Marketing. As its name suggests, 3D Systems Corp. specializes in 3D printing, prototyping and manufacturing parts.

Cathy says she will always be grateful for the opportunities she was given in the graphic arts. “Whether at Xerox, IKON or Siemens, the best moments have been seeing the people who worked with me excel, grow and move ahead. I would enjoy working for a few of those folks today.”


She credits her success to a combination of luck and persistence. “I grew up in Southern California in the 1950s, where my dad was a policeman with the LAPD and my mother was involved in the PTA, the Red Cross and so on,” she says. “I loved to read, was reasonably good in school and assumed I would go to college. But those plans were interrupted when my mother passed away at the end of my senior year. I took some time off to support my family and never quite made it back to school—making a living derailed any further traditional education. My formal training has been exclusively on the job… It has been a pretty good ride.”


In one of her first jobs, Cathy worked for Safeguard Business Systems, a company that sold checks and accounting journals. “This was in the late 1980s, before personal computers existed,” she explains. “The journals were the input mechanism to a service bureau where the entries were posted and financial statements run for the accountants and their clients. Safeguard distributed its products and services through a network of independent business owners, many of them retired sales executives from companies like Burroughs and Sperry. After a few years of working for the parent company, I joined the ranks of the entrepreneurs and built a financial services business of $1 million in annual sales.”


Following the sale of her company, Lewis joined Xerox for 18 months. She went on to join Siemens Information Systems, where she ran Pacific Northwest sales and marketing. In 1990, she rejoined Xerox and helped launch the industry’s first highlight color products, as well as software that enabled Xerox to print from IBM AFP data streams. Of her dozen years with Xerox, almost eight were in and around the high-volume business. Lewis closed her Xerox career as the vice president of worldwide marketing for the Color Solutions Business Unit and joined IKON in 2001 as Senior Vice President of Marketing.


After spending five years with IKON, Cathy yearned to return to her personal and professional roots—she sought a hands-on role with an entrepreneurially driven firm that would let her relocate to her native California. Two weeks into her job search, she heard from Desktop Factory. “It took a lot of what I knew about the technology, sales and marketing and brought me into a whole new world of printing physical objects,” Cathy told reporter Ben Kuo. “I didn't know anything about modeling, and I'm not a CAD guru, so it really expanded my horizons, but it also didn't compete with Ikon—[I had] a two-year non-compete with Ikon—so I got the best of both worlds.”

Although 3D printing might seem like a recent development, it’s been in use for more than 26 years. “When 3D Systems first invented 3D printing, the sole use was rapid prototyping—and that was revolutionary. Today, everything from sunglasses to coffee makers, as well as cars and airplanes, comes to the market through 3D printing.”


While rapid prototyping remains an essential application, over the past decade, 3D Systems has expanded the technology’s reach into direct manufacturing. “More than half of the printers we sell are used to manufacture everything from lighting, jewelry and smartphone cases to custom in-ear hearing aids, invisible orthodontic aligners and other medical and dental devices and appliances,” says Cathy. “Parts for aerospace and defense applications also are produced with our printers.”

3D manufacturing eliminates tooling and supply chain complexities and, in the case of transportation solutions, delivers a part that mimics the mechanical properties of the traditional part but at a fraction of the cost and weight. “Plus, with a digital file you have a sustainable solution that is available for decades,” notes Cathy.

She says this technology will complement rather than replace traditional manufacturing methods. “In cases where you have high value but low volume manufacturing—a weapons systems like the F-35 fighter jet is a perfect example—we will see a movement to 3D printing to save costs, reduce waste and provide a sustainable solution with a lifespan of 30 to 50 years or more,” Cathy predicts. Dramatic growth also is forecasted for sectors such as healthcare, where personalization or customization can improve products. 3D applications might include custom knee and hip replacements.


Asked about potential 3D applications for the graphic arts, Cathy suggests that a 3D scale model of some projects could sit alongside blueprints as planning and communication tools. “Rather than a 2D proposal, provide a 3D concept model to communicate your idea or solution,” she says. “Rather than an aerial view of a trade show booth in 2D, provide a replica of the layout in 3D. When selling an idea or a concept, a picture has always been worth a thousand words. Just imagine what happens when you supply a physical model, possibly in full color.”

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