Most people like to avoid challenging problems, but most people aren’t like Stephen Nixon. As Velo3D Manufacturing Manager, Stephen is responsible for both solving challenging manufacturing problems that arise and regularly finding new, better, and faster ways to solve them.
We recently chatted with Stephen to talk about his role including his fascinating journey from working on 12-volt electrical systems at Tesla to working on Velo3D’s state-of-the-art Sapphire laser-powder-bed-fusion (LPBF) printers.
Tell our readers a little bit about your background.
For most of my life I’ve been working with machines, motorcycles, and cars. When I got a little bit older, I realized that a lot of my mechanic friends—I was in the mechanic business for a while—never wanted to touch the electrical side of vehicles. So, I started training in the electrical side of 12 volts for diagnostics and car engines. From there, it spawned into a career with Tesla doing 12-volt safety repairs and diagnostics.
How long have you been at Velo3D and what brought you to the company?
I have been here for almost three years. I started on December 3 of 2019. I had been working at Tesla for a while, and I learned everything I could from them. I started looking for another vocation to kind of ease myself into, and a recruiter from Velo3D called me one day and told me about this job working with 3D printers and additive manufacturing.
I looked at the website, everything looked interesting and cool. Diagnostically speaking, my head was just gone. There’s got to be all sorts of challenges to overcome on these things. I thought it would be fun to try and get in and diagnose and build these things. When I got in and saw the first machines printing and lasing, I was so impressed and knew it was technology I wanted to work on.
Can you tell us a little bit about your day-to-day at Velo3D?
Most of it is diagnostics and troubleshooting. I have a large mechanical background; I used to do a lot of the assembly. My day to day is mostly going up to any machines that are having functional issues and finding the root causes. I also manage a large team of technicians that are working on both the Sapphire and Sapphire XC.
I also do quite a bit of training when it comes to optical alignment and procedural things like calibration and tuning the machines. I also I write procedures. I have probably written and rewritten hundreds of procedures for Velo3D. That includes everything from how to put certain things together to troubleshooting tips and tricks.
How would you describe the culture at Velo3D?
I would say culture wise Velo3D is a very inclusive place to work. There is a lot of cross-collaboration with different departments and people. I’m always in communications with people from software engineering, electrical engineering, hardware engineers, and so on. I like it because I get to work alongside a lot of people. And it always feels like everybody is really willing to come together to make everything better.
What motivates you to wake up and go to work?
I’ve always strived to be the best at what I do, and so I try and work every day towards that goal. If there’s something that I’m not very familiar with, that I don’t have a lot of experience with, I will dive 120 % into that until I have learned everything about it. I guess the best way to describe it is I want to be the best I can be every day. That’s what motivates me.
What in your opinion differentiates Velo3D from other additive manufacturing solutions?
It’s all about our technology. We have a lot of innovative ideas that nobody else has seemed to think of yet, and we are always pushing to come up with the next best thing. We’re never complacent, and we’re always trying to push the envelope make things better for our customers.
What has been your favorite project so far?
It would probably be any time I’ve been asked to do something outside of my comfort zone. For example, one time I was asked to design something that can be attached to the machine that would increase its humidity output at a controlled level.
Now, engineering and design are not things I’ve done before, so whenever I’ve been asked to come up with something like that, I’m always very excited by the challenge. And, of course, it makes me feel good to know that the company trusts me as much it does to come up with solutions.
What’s something most people don’t know about you?
Well, there’s a lot of things that most people don’t know about me! I’m admittedly a guy who keeps to himself, but I did used to sing in honors choir all throughout high school, and I used to be a pretty good stand-up comedian. I even opened for a famous comic at the San Jose Improv.
What do you like to do for fun? Any interesting hobbies?
I like to paint with acrylics. It’s one of the things that I got into a while ago. If I have the free time, it’s one of the things I like to do to unwind from a busy week.
That’s all our questions—thanks for chatting with us, Stephen!