Senior Technologist at Velo3D
B.S. and M.S. Mechanical Engineering – Universidad de los Andes (Bogotá, Colombia)
PhD Mechanical Engineering – Northeastern University (Boston, MA)
Originally from Colombia, Ana moved to the USA to pursue a PhD in Mechanical Engineering with an emphasis in Material Science. After graduation, she started as a Junior Process Engineer at Velo3D, where she now holds a position as a Senior Technologist. In this role, she works on developing laser powder bed 3D printing processes for a variety of metallic materials. One of her favorite parts about her job is getting to see how the processes she develops on small-scale test structures turn out when used in the 3D printing of large-scale components, and knowing that the technology she is helping develop enables the printing of complex and ambitious designs that allow fast innovation in the aerospace, transportation and energy industries.
Talk about the culture at your company. What makes it inclusive or supportive of women in engineering and automation?
I’ve always liked that at Velo3D there is a strong sense of collaboration and respect. There are a lot of opportunities to interact with different teams, and everyone is always open to help and work together to achieve our common goals. I have always felt respected and included, and while many times I have found myself to be the only woman in a room or meeting, I’ve always felt my input has been valued and considered.
Describe a recent company project (in which you were involved) that went particularly well. How did you and your team go about ensuring success?
I was recently working on qualifying a new material for the Velo3D printers. This material, called GRCop-42, is a copper alloy of particular interest to the aerospace industry. Due to its high reflectivity, conductivity and melting temperature, this alloy proved to be very challenging to print. The typical processes we use for other materials didn’t work very well for this one, and we identified new failure modes that we hadn’t seen before. We had a tight schedule, a small team, and a lot of work to complete. We also had a lot of pressure from other teams that depended on us completing our work to be able to start theirs. I started by clearly laying out what the main requirements would be for this project, while also keeping track of lower priority goals that could be tackled later. We set up regular internal check-ins to track progress, and kept the customer informed along the way on how the project was moving forward. While there were a lot of challenges related to maintaining good communication and synchronization across teams, I consider the project was overall very successful in that we were able to deliver a product that met and exceeded the customer expectations. It required a lot of hard work, a great team of people, good organization, many iterations, and open collaboration both internally as well as with the customer.
What first drew you to engineering and this industry?
I loved math and science classes during high school. I found it very exciting to learn about basic concepts and principles that allowed me to derive exact solutions to problems. For that reason, engineering felt like a natural choice for me when selecting a career, even though I come from a family of artists. I started my undergrad in a General Engineering program, and after getting more exposure to the different path options available, I opted for Material Science and Engineering under the Mechanical Engineering Department. In my senior year, I had the opportunity to join a research lab focused on powder metallurgy, and that experience sparked my interest in research and experimentation in manufacturing.
Describe your biggest career challenge. How did you solve it — or what was the outcome or lesson learned?
I have a shy personality and speaking up has always been challenging to me, whether it is in a public speaking setting like a conference or work presentation or a debate-type setting like a meeting or work discussion. Being able to communicate well is critical to all careers, not just engineering, and so very early on I identified this aspect as something I would have to improve on. For the case of public speaking, it took a lot of practice over the years and many public presentations to learn what works best for me to feel more comfortable; preparing well the material that I’m presenting ahead of time helps me organize my thoughts, structure my talk, and gives me the boost of confidence that I need. I’m happy to say that with this strategy I’ve become good at public presentations, and my managers and peers have even expressed that I excel at this. For the debate-type settings, even to date, I have to continue to remind myself to be more outspoken, to care less about what others may think and focus more on the work that needs to be done.
What career advice would you give to your younger self?
Trust yourself. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes because they will help you learn and grow. Try to learn different things even if they are not directly related to your field and broaden your skill set as much as possible.
Filed Under: Women in Engineering