Sometimes you find a career and sometimes your career finds you. The latter is certainly true for Velo3D Senior Process Engineer Shashank H R. A 3D printing enthusiast from an early age, it seems that Shashank was always destined to work with 3D printers in some capacity or another.
We recently chatted with Shashank to learn more about his professional experience, including his passion and appreciation for everything 3D printing, his background as a material scientist, and to learn more about his role on Velo3D’s process engineering team where he helps develop new materials, refine processes, and qualify new powders for use in the Velo3D fully integrated metal AM solution.
Please tell us about your professional background.
I would describe myself as a materials scientist with a focus on metallurgy. Both my undergraduate and graduate degrees, as well as previous work experience, are centered around materials science with an emphasis on structural materials.
What was your previous experience with additive manufacturing technology?
I’ve been in the weeds of the technology for some time. My undergraduate thesis project was about laser powder bed fusion of Ni-based superalloys. And then my graduate project was related to additive manufacturing in a medical context. For my first job out of grad school, I worked on the East Coast for another metal AM company. But before all of that, I was working on a plastic 3D printer in my dorm room!
That’s very cool! What kind of stuff were you printing?
I’ll never forget the first printer I bought – I devoted eight hours putting it together from the kit but it was broken out of the box! I spent a considerable amount of time fixing it up before I could even have my first print. Once I did get it to work, it was still quite unreliable. I was still able to print my friends some trinkets though!
When I started off, I was really fascinated by all the things one could do with AM and plastics. That made me think about all the amazing possibilities with metals. I was in my sophomore year studying materials science at that point, so I felt that I needed to pick something to specialize in. I thought the technology looked cool, looked new, and looked like something I could be passionate about and pursue as a profession, so I went down that path.
What brought you to Velo3D?
My previous job was with a plastic 3D printing company, but I wanted to get back to working with metal. Greg Brown [Velo3D VP of Technology], who is also a UC Berkeley alumnus, shared a job opening on LinkedIn one day and I immediately jumped at the opportunity.
I felt like it would be a good fit for what I wanted to do. I like diving deep into certain aspects of the technology, and I felt like this would be a great place to do it. We’re developing new materials and technologies and looking closely at some of the challenges that are facing Velo3D and the metal AM industry at large.
We’re developing new materials and technologies and looking closely at some of the challenges that are facing Velo3D and the metal AM industry at large.
Can you tell us a little bit about your day-to-day at Velo3D?
On the process team, we’re responsible for developing new materials, qualifying new powders, and developing recipes for various processes that set us apart from other metal AM companies. I personally tend to work a little bit more on the powder characterization side and the new material development aspects, amongst other things.
On the process team, we’re responsible for developing new materials, qualifying new powders, and developing recipes for various processes that set us apart from other metal AM companies.
As for my day to day, it depends a lot on the project. I spend a decent amount of time making builds to run on our lab printers. I also coordinate a lot of our powder analysis with external testing vendors. Sometimes, we perform five or six different types of analyses on a single powder sample. I work on making holistic sense of these pieces of data, as well as keeping track of all our results so we can continue learning over time.
That all helps in developing an intuition and understanding for what this powder will look like when it’s put on a Sapphire (or Sapphire XC). Customer requests come in many shapes and sizes. Sometimes it’s a feasibility study for a whole new material. Sometimes, it’s just qualifying a new powder vendor for a material that we already support. Procuring powder can be both expensive and take a long time; having a high confidence in any given powder is important before that commitments are made for large quantities.
We’ve done a lot of characterization work on the powder from our internal systems. We employ many macro and microanalysis techniques to understand what’s happening. That could be elemental analysis, particle size distribution, flowability testing, or even scanning electron microscopy to see how regular the particles are and check for contamination. We use similar characterization routines to decide if a new material or powder is worth pursuing.
How would you describe the culture at Velo3D?
I would say the culture at Velo3D is very focused and technical. I appreciate the fact that a lot of the people we have at the top—whether they’re C-suite or the VPs—have a very good grasp of the technology and make realistic, achievable promises to customers.
The culture at Velo3D is very focused and technical. I appreciate the fact that a lot of the people we have at the top—whether they’re C-suite or the VPs—have a very good grasp of the technology and make realistic, achievable promises to customers.
Of course, we try to move very quickly. But we do so within realistic terms and are never encouraged to cut corners for the sake of driving business. I would say that the technical focus of our leadership is something that I appreciate a lot.
I believe that attitude trickles down. No one in the chain of command ever needs to be afraid of escalating one step up whenever there’s a technical issue. Saying “this doesn’t work” for a technical or scientific reason is not looked down upon. There’s never a “I don’t care why, just make it work” attitude. As a company, I think that we appreciate our attention to the technical side of basically everything we do.
What motivates you to wake up and go to work?
I’m really motivated by projects where I must dig deep and address fundamental challenges. My scientific curiosity is never satisfied. Many of the problems that I work on do not have obvious explanations. It’s not just a question of throwing money at a problem and making it go away; it’s dealing with something that isn’t well understood, not just by us, but by the scientific community in general.
What in your opinion differentiates Velo3D from other additive manufacturing solutions?
I think that the most important part is our process. The combination of our non-contact recoater as well as our proprietary processes that the process team has developed over the years to make these low angle parts without supports. It’s an absolute differentiator. To be clear, it’s a differentiator not just from other laser powder bed fusion OEMs, but across metal additive in general.
Supports are always an issue, whether you’re printing plastic with FDM or SLA, or metal with powder bed fusion or binder jetting. With binder jetting, you can technically make parts that don’t have supports, but you need supports during the sintering process. So, supports are just a fundamental challenge to additive. The technology that we offer allows us to print parts that either do not have supports at all, or at least do not have any supports that are intrusive to the actual application. So, I think that that is a huge differentiator that we provide.
Supports are just a fundamental challenge to additive. The technology that we offer allows us to print parts that either do not have supports at all, or at least do not have any supports that are intrusive to the actual application. So, I think that that is a huge differentiator that we provide.
What has been your favorite project so far?
I’ve enjoyed the powder characterization and troubleshooting projects. For example, reusing powder is an important part of our value proposition (and metal additive’s value proposition in general). If you don’t reuse powder, you’re throwing out a lot of time, money, material, and energy. However, reusing powder is not necessarily straightforward. It is a never-ending battle with entropy because powder wants to degrade, and we’re trying to prevent that from happening.
There is this constant tussle with nature and with thermodynamics. This has led us to dig deep to try and figure out what we can do to prevent powder degradation and allow for infinite powder use. I’ve personally had to explore a lot of macro and micro analysis techniques, like I mentioned earlier: elemental analysis, oxygen, carbon, things like that. Scanning electron microscopy, x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, there’s a bunch of these techniques that we’ve had to explore to characterize what’s changing with our powder as it moves around in our printer.
We’re trying to dig deeper into how powder is degrading, why that’s happening, and what we can do to slow down or prevent that. I know a lot of other OEMs advise customers to reuse their powder only a few times and then toss it out or recycle it. However, recycling it means melting and making fresh powder, which is very expensive and energy intensive, which in turn takes away from the value proposition of metal additive manufacturing.
What’s something most people don’t know about you?
There are some people who sit with me during lunch that probably know this, but I enjoy food a lot! Food and cooking are my biggest drivers outside of work. To me, new recipe development in the kitchen is not that different from doing process engineering in the lab.
Food and cooking are my biggest drivers outside of work. To me, new recipe development in the kitchen is not that different from doing process engineering in the lab.
What do you like to do for fun? Any interesting hobbies?
Cooking and photography are my biggest hobbies. I haven’t been doing much photography as of late, but one of the things I used to enjoy doing when I had more time was to make food, plate it, and take pictures of it.
When I’m not thinking about metals and alloys, I spend a lot of time thinking about food: about how I can make something or how I can make something better. Sometimes it’s using unconventional means. There’s a lot of food science stuff out there, and food science is not all that different from materials science!
For example, adding one slice of American cheese into a mixture of gourmet cheese can make the perfect mac and cheese that does not split or turn grainy. This is because the American cheese contains sodium citrate, which acts an emulsifier and keeps all the fat in the emulsion. Toying around with things like that is fun for me!
That’s all our questions—thanks for chatting with us, Shashank!