Julia Baldya was born and raised in Poland. She left her home country a couple of years ago to study Electrical Engineering and Automotive Systems at TU Berlin. In search for an exciting career path, Julia decided to give motorsport a try because an office job was not exactly what she wanted to do. She was able to land an internship at Van Amersfoort Racing in the Netherlands, where she currently works as data engineer. Her job consists of monitoring the parameters of the car (“vitals”), analyzing errors and failures, and aiding the race engineer, i.e. the main engineer responsible for the car set-up and driver’s performance during tests and races.
During her internship, she participated in a cooperation project between her team and Ultimaker, making a case study of the application of 3D printing in a racing team.
Julia, could you let us know briefly about your background and how you came across additive manufacturing?
I was, and I am still a student of TU Berlin, while I work for the VAR part-time this year (counting the days to submitting my master’s thesis in December!). Before the adventure with motorsport and 3D printing, I graduated in Electrical Engineering and chose more multidisciplinary studies for my master’s degree, that would at the same time focus on electrical and automotive engineering. I chose Automotive Systems and I did a course on CAD in Automotive Industry, among others. This is where I learned CATIA and manufacturing processes. I haven’t used those skills before – in my previous student job, as a control systems engineer for a much bigger automotive company, I was involved in mathematical modelling, simulation and testing of mechatronic components. The relatively small size of my current team requires a person to take up more diverse tasks, for which you might need to learn new things.
You were involved in the 3D printing project of Van Amersfoort Racing. Can you tell us what this was about?
Van Amersfoort Racing is a Formula 3 and Formula 4 race team. It leads young drivers on their way to success in single seater racing series such as F1, F2, FE or WEC. The team has been using the 3D printing technology for a couple of years for rapid prototyping mostly. Because, as every team, we are on tight budget, we need to make sure that the parts we produce are going to fit the car well. There are sometimes 3-4 iterations of a designed part before it gets green light and can be sent for CNC machining or water cutting. This is in many industries the most standard use of 3D printed parts. However, during the project I participated in, we decided to check whether there are applications of 3D printed parts directly on the race car. And, especially after discovering the reinforced materials (with carbon fiber or glass fiber), there were!
I am behind the idea of 3D printing the halo. The story is: I entered the team at the same time the Tatuus T318 cars with halo were introduces to the junior categories for safety reasons. I remember seeing the item on the to do list of my chief engineer: “find a solution for the halo in the simulator”. We checked the price of a real halo, but with its qualities, it was of course too expensive (and heavy). It also wouldn’t exactly fit the simulator monocoque. So I suggested 3D printing the halo (without the idea of wrapping it in carbon just yet). I made the first design, that was later reiterated multiple times by the Ultimaker application engineer, which was an invaluable help and a fun process, before it was steady and presentable. The idea of wrapping the plastic in carbon fiber came along the way, to give the part a smooth look and reinforce the stability and durability. It really resembled the real halo in the end, as you can see in the video. We even worked with a real racing driver on that, asking for feedback on the design and comparison between the field of view in the real car and in the simulator.
How do you see 3D printing being used even more in motorsports? What are the challenges for a broader adoption of 3D printing in motorsports today?
I think there are some drawbacks in the 3D printing that need to be overcome for the process to make a step from “rapid prototyping and modelling” to “real part manufacturing”. Those problems are: lack of reliable topology optimization method for the layered structure of 3D printed part, relatively low temperature resistance of the plastics, the often rugged surface finish of the part. There are great carbon fibre and glass fibre reinforced materials, yet the plastic that is used as basis needs to be suitable for melting with printing heads. They would normally reach up to 180-300 degrees in desktop printers, and much higher in industry printers, but the latter are extremely expensive, and the cost advantage of the process is lost. The temperature is unfortunately a great factor in motorsports, as everything works at highest performance levels and heats up. Also, a computational optimization method for lightweight yet robust design is a must – a race car cannot afford to carry more weight than is absolutely necessary. Also, were the surface finish smooth enough, an idea of replacing easily crashed aerodynamic carbon parts that do not carry loads with 3D printed parts would be worth considering – the parts cost less in manufacturing and can be produced on track in a couple of hours in case the old one breaks.
So far, have you run into any challenges from being a woman 3D Printing?
No, not serious challenges – misunderstanding or wrong perception mostly. During the video shooting, I was asked by one of the videographers who didn’t know me before to get into the shot and “pretend to be an engineer”. I am an engineer. Luckily not anything more than that (but in many other areas of technology, I have – we can’t pretend we have equality already, because the women are still being omitted for promotion, earn less in the same position and need to face double standards or much harsher critique than male engineers). The biggest challenge is the lack of representation. I have been working with competent advisors from Ultimaker and from 3D printing department of Clariant, who were both male and female. However, it seems like there are not too many women in the 3D printing altogether – that’s what I noticed visiting the Formnext exhibition last year. I’d hope they just were not a part of the exhibition group, but I’d be lying to myself. I wish there were more, starting from design departments, through additive manufacturing, all the way to the electronics and race teams!
What advice do you have for women looking to get started in 3D Printing?
I had just about zero experience in CAD and Additive Manufacturing when I first had to come up with an idea of an application, create part specification, design it and reiterate the design with Ultimaker engineers. I think that’s a great thing about 3D printing – you don’t need to have attended a technical college to be able to make good use of it. Even if your design does not work for the first time, the cost is minimal and you re-design and re-print the improved part. So the message is: if I can do it, any other girl can do it.
In your opinion, how could we encourage more women to become involved with Additive Manufacturing?
I think the initiative of Women in 3D printing is amazing. As the saying goes: “you can’t be what you can’t see”, young girls need more role models. If they decide to pursue an education and career in STEM, they will inevitably learn CAD and Additive Manufacturing processes. The industry needs to have a female face. Anytime I search for an expert in a field, be it control systems, motorsport or design, that I would like to contact for advice, it is usually a man. I think it is time to change it, by showing that a girl can have as good career in technology as a boy can. I also think than any program which aims at pupils – at primary school, middle school, doesn’t matter – can have a great influence on the number of girls that will decide to study engineering. It can be in form of activity days at schools, when the girls could design and 3D print their own toys or tools, or days in the industry when girls are invited to accompany their parents (usually fathers) to their jobs in technology. I have participated in a similar action back in the company I worked for in Germany. Some 11- to 13-year old girls had a tour of the factory, but most of the engineers they could see were of course male. So, I volunteered to give them a short talk about my engineering role in the company. I thought that showing young girls that women in tech are just like them is as important as showing them an engine dyno!
Favorite 3D tool?
Ultimaker Cura and Ultimaker 3D printers with Clariant materials
Favorite moment in your day job?
Seeing the produced parts in daily use, and, obviously winning a race!
What’s on your 3D Printing wish list for the next 5 years?
Materials resistant to higher temperatures!