While her impressive background—she holds a BS in engineering from Harvey Mudd College and a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Northeastern—means she has expert knowledge of metal 3D printing, material science, and magnetism R&D, it’s the warm, welcoming, and easy to understand way she talks about it all that makes Nina Bordeaux, Senior Technologist at Velo3D, truly one-of-a-kind.
We recently sat down with Nina to learn more about her role at Velo3D and how her passion for resolving complex challenges through innovation attracted her, much like a magnet, to the company.
How long have you been at Velo3D and what brought you to the company?
Well, I did my Ph.D. in bulk metals and wanted to continue working in that field. I also wanted to do something new. 3D printing was a fascinating application for something that I could do with my academic background and still be on the cutting edge.
Tell us about your role and your day-to-day at Velo3D
As a Process Engineer, we have this machine [Sapphire®] that we’ve built. My job is to help figure out how to make it print the highest quality parts possible. That means putting our hardware to use with our software, looking at the product that comes out, and seeing how we can give our customers the best surface finish, the best porosity, the best throughput, and whatever other metrics they care about as possible.
Ultimately, we want to show our customers that we can print parts to their specifications that are useful for their industry. And every customer wants something different. What’s right for one customer isn’t necessarily right for another. So, developing processes that meet their needs and coming up with smart ways to automatically tell our software when to use which is a big part of my job.
Throughput is something that gets talked about a lot here at Velo3D, why is it important?
Cubic centimeters per hour is typically the throughput metric we talk about, so that means how fast a Sapphire® can print a part. Is it going to take five hours or five days? How long a part takes to print is an important factor for customers. Each laser gives a certain number of watts, ours are a kilowatt each. The number of watts on a printer is the biggest indicator of the throughput it will be able to provide but throughput does not scale exactly linearly with power.
You said, “What’s right for one customer isn’t necessarily right for another.” Would you elaborate a little bit on that?
Sure, so aerospace customers tend to print bulky parts, so they’re interested in having the core of their part, the bulk of their part, print very quickly. But another customer might be printing heat exchangers, which are very thin, and they care about the resolution of the features. That is almost more important than anything else; the resolution of those features and making sure they’re leak tight, which really isn’t a factor for bulky parts.
So, the main point of a heat exchanger is to exchange heat from one fluid to another. The way you do that is by maximizing surface area. You don’t want to mix your fluids, right, so they must be separated by metal. So, if you maximize the surface between fluid one and fluid two across a metal that maximizes heat transfer, and you’ll get the best heat exchanger possible. Our technology allows for the printing of these channels and fine features to maximize the surface area between two fluids.
What in your opinion differentiates Velo3D from other additive manufacturing solutions?
Oh, gosh, I don’t look at other manufacturers! I’m just focused on our solution. Maybe I’m not the best person to ask this question, but I do know that being a complete end-to-end solution changes things because we do the hardware, the software, and the process.
A lot of other printers, you know, it’s just the hardware and then you have to use the software from some other company—they’re not fully integrated. Our [solution] is, so when we develop new capabilities, we have them work together and we can use our software to tell our printer to do different things on different features because they’re fully integrated. We can have our hardware you know, updated to account for different issues that we’re seeing as we’re going and looking at the quality of our parts. Having the ability to circle back and have full collaboration between those three areas is unique in our industry.
When it comes to work, what motivates you the most?
For me it’s really all about the people. I really enjoy my team a lot, and I think of everyone on my team as being friends as well as colleagues. I have a lot of respect for everyone on the team, and we are all working very hard towards the same goal. Across [Velo3D] everyone has a shared vision and a shared work ethic, and there’s just a lot of open collaboration and a sense of getting through this together.
Now for a hard question! What has been your favorite project to work on?
I’ve enjoyed a lot of projects here. I think the project I’ve enjoyed the most is developing the Titanium 6AI-4V process. This is a project that I led. It’s the second material that we developed at Velo3D. For many years, we were just looking at Inconel, so I led a team developing our second material. In the beginning, we had an issue with cracking. As printed, titanium is very brittle, and it can crack while it’s printing. This is a problem industry wide. And so, this was a big challenge for us.
I took some time to review literature and think deeply on this and came up with an idea on how to fix it. And one of my team members came up with another idea on how to fix it. We tested both ideas and both worked. As far as we know, they’re not used by anybody else. We ended up choosing my idea for a few reasons. I like this project because it allowed me to be innovative and come up with something totally new.
What is something important you’d like to share with our readers?
I have a two-year-old son. I started working at Velo3D and then a couple of years after working here, I got pregnant and had a son, and now I’m continuing to work here. It’s been a challenge, especially during COVID. But I want to say that this is a friendly space for female engineers. I’ve gotten a lot of support from my boss, and we have been able to work through it. Of course, it’s always challenging, and the hours are long, but I can speak from experience and say that you can work here and have a family.
Any fun hobbies outside of work and being a parent?
There is no outside of being a parent! But my son is learning how to ride a bike, and I am also learning how to ride a bike. I never learned when I was young. Now we’re learning at the same time, which is funny. We go out and ride our bikes in the driveway and he says, “You can do it, mommy!”