Gabi Miholics, Application Development Specialist
3M Abrasive Systems Division
BS, Chemical Engineering, Western University
I started my adult life as a veterinary assistant. I loved the science of the work I did at the animal hospitals, but it wasn’t quite what I was looking for in a career, so I enrolled in a course that caught my interest called Environmental Technology. This was a co-op program that ultimately led me to 3M Canada and started my work in the research and development laboratory in London, Ontario.
While working at 3M, I completed my Bachelor of Science, Chemical Engineering at Western University in London, Ontario. I started my career at 3M Canada as a technologist in the R&D lab, supporting a number of product lines in product development. I started my career at 3M Canada as a technologist in the R&D lab supporting product development. Currently, I work in Application Engineering for the Abrasive Systems Division, where I leverage my expertise and skills to engineer abrasive processing solutions for customers, many utilizing advanced automation such as robotics.
Many times, throughout my career, I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to speak with young women joining 3M as interns and new employees to our laboratories to share my experience working as an engineer at 3M.
In my spare time, I train my dogs and compete in agility competitions. I embrace the science of dog training, using operant conditioning and positive reinforcement methods to get the best from my dogs.
Talk about the culture of your company. What makes it inclusive or supportive of women in engineering and automation?
At 3M, I’ve never felt that being a woman was a disadvantage. 3M has always had a culture of supporting women with no gender bias for as long as I have worked here. There were always women at higher supervisory positions here in London. In fact, my first interview and job offer came from a woman, who had a PhD and worked in the R&D lab. I was surprised and delighted to see a woman at this higher level when I was interviewed. This truly inspired me to want to work at 3M.
In London, there were many women in different functions in the laboratories from master’s, Ph.D.’s and engineering degrees with R&D projects or supporting product development or managing manufacturing process thirty years ago. Being surrounded by accomplished women leveled the playing field in the workplace and set an expectation for women to move into higher-level positions. I recently celebrated my 30th year working at 3M Canada.
Describe a recent company project (in which you were involved) that went particularly well. How did you and your team go about ensuring success?
Recently, I’ve delved into the robotic process with 3M abrasives. I’ve worked with robotic integrators and customers to automate products like airplane engine parts, helicopter parts, medical implants and metal boxes. This required exploration into understanding the parameters necessary to produce repeatable results and understand the difference between parts produced manually vs. automated. The precision of parts that go into an airplane engine or a hip replacement requires consistency in the finish. The conversations I’ve had with customers go beyond 3M abrasives. We discuss the robot, how to move customer parts to it, the periphery equipment, the investment, how to assess and measure ROI.
Recently, I was charged with an especially complex project with a customer located in Europe. I worked with U.S. and European team members to engineer our recommended processes to meet the customer’s needs, as well as fitting the processing strategy to that of the System Integrator. I also ensured that the solutions recommended were available in Europe for a customer to purchase. Success in this project required so much more than just engineering skills. It required an extensive global network of 3M application engineers, robotic industry members and communication skills developed over several years working with customers. The global 3M application engineering team is made up of such a talented pool of people. We bring our collective strengths together to collaborate on customer’s projects regularly.
What first drew you to engineering and this industry?
While working in the R&D lab as a technologist, I met many co-op students and interns from various schools and disciplines. I knew I wanted to pursue a university education but wasn’t sure which field was right for me. One term, we had two women interns from Western University. They were extremely bright and confident and open about what engineering was about and their experiences of women in the field of engineering. (One of these women is Veena Lakkundi, an executive with 3M). With admiration of their skills and aptitude and with their encouragement I enrolled in Chemical Engineering at Western University.
I really enjoy problem-solving, the quintessential definition of engineering. I like to explore the why of things and am not afraid of getting it wrong sometimes—I learn from this too. 3M has a 15% culture which allows us to spend up to15% of our time on projects that are not necessarily part of day-to-day work, embracing scientists and our need to investigate new opportunities, take risks and make mistakes along the way, without penalty.
Describe your biggest career challenge. How did you solve it — or what was the outcome or lesson learned?
When I first started visiting customer manufacturing sites in Canada, I did have to overcome gender bias in the industry and gain credibility. On visits, customer questions would often be addressed to my male colleague who could not answer the technical questions and would turn to me for the answer. I was well-versed in topics around abrasive use but became determined to speak the language customers used in discussing their applications. I worked with senior co-workers to understand how the customers discussed their operating parameters. With the common language, I gained credibility with the customer and gender was not an issue. By helping our customers become more productive and efficient in their processes, they recognize the value I look to bring to their operation and see past my gender.
Today, through the relationships I’ve established with machine builders and customers, I am often the first point of contact with those looking to reimagine their existing process and invest in new equipment.
What career advice would you give to your younger self?
Make engineering my first career choice – not my third! When I was in high school, engineering for women was not a choice offered by career counselors. But no regrets, I have had a great career with many learning and growing opportunities along the way.