Bertrand Maillon, innovative globetrotter

15/03/2019 - Careers, Innovation and R&D, France
At the Aulnoye research center, Bertrand is working on a technology of the future: additive manufacturing. 

Tell us about your background.

After taking a DUT (university-level technical diploma) in mechanics and computer integrated manufacturing in Saint-Etienne, I studied at INSA (National Institute of Applied Sciences) in Toulouse. I joined Vallourec straight after my studies, and my adventure with the company has lasted twelve years so far.

I first worked at the VRCC (Vallourec Research Connections Center) where I developed VAM® connections, including the VAM® 21TM, a future connection for the Vallourec Group. In late 2008, I was lucky enough to be able to go to Houston, Texas, to develop the VRCC extension on American soil. As well as connections, I also worked on qualifications for customers, and in so doing validated the performance of our products in the often extreme conditions of wells.

Then in 2012, I decided to get into operations. So I moved to Glasgow where I started as a VPA (Vallourec Performance Analyst) responsible for continuous site improvement. I gradually took on more responsibilities in production, taking charge of one of the production units. In total I spent four years in Glasgow.

Afterwards, between 2016 and 2018, I had the opportunity to take operational responsibility for the Saudi Arabia site. I was responsible for production, quality, scheduling and continuous improvement. At that time, my family lived in Bahrain so I went through customs every day to go home. My passport is so full of stamps that some pages are black!

I came back to France in August 2018. I now work in innovation at the Aulnoye-Aymeries research center, and am focusing on the commercial development of additive manufacturing for the Vallourec Group.

What exactly is additive manufacturing?

Additive manufacturing refers to the methods used to form a part by adding successive layers – in other words, layer-by-layer fabrication – to give it its final form. People also use the term 3D printing.

We've recently seen the emergence of numerous desktop 3D printers aimed at home users, but you have to bear in mind that we don't only print plastic. Metal printing, aimed at manufacturers, is also taking off in a big way. There are many different methods for layering up this material, some based on legacy technologies such as welding or metal spraying*. Contrary to what you might imagine, we don't make tubes using 3D printing: the tools needed to print something so large simply don't exist and in any case it wouldn't be economically viable... At least for the time being!

What does your work involve?

I'm responsible for finding commercial opportunities using additive manufacturing. As our products have relatively simple forms – tubes – additive manufacturing opens up numerous possibilities. We see this technology as a potential way of solving some customer issues linked to the usage and often complex logistics of our products, by adding functions, or modifying the form and materials used.

We're also using this technology to make our factories more efficient, including in terms of stock maintenance or solutions that are lighter, faster or harder-wearing, for example.

What are the main challenges of your job?

Additive manufacturing is relatively new, both for us and for our customers, so the main difficulty lies in uptake and in changing mindsets. We operate in a market and an industry that can be quite conservative. I have to do a lot of work on the different value propositions. It is through working on new production processes that I realize we need to build them from the ground up. There are very few procedures and standards. We are among the first manufacturers of these technologies. That's very motivating but we need to roll up our sleeves!

It's also a very cross-functional project, and I've had the opportunity to meet with lots of people to make progress: customers, rivals, my colleagues, etc. It takes a huge amount of time, but it also allows me to work with people from all sorts of backgrounds! Lastly, my work requires good analytical skills. You need to sift through information on a wide range of technologies and subjects, stay focused and deliver value for the company.

For what could you thank your manager?

Vallourec's management teams have built a people-centric organization. We all have a degree of freedom in our roles, and that's what makes our work interesting. And there are real opportunities for career progression – I'm the proof of that: R&D, production, business development. Vallourec enables its staff to reinvent themselves and grow regularly.

I also like the way my manager, Sylvie Dubois Decool, will challenge a suggestion or tackle problems. For me, she represents the Vallourec of the future.

What are your main interests outside work?

Clearly, I love traveling! To take one example, after some administrative issues in 2014, I traveled around the world from west to east in 10 days.

I'm just completing an MBA with the University of Strathclyde which I've been doing for three years. I started it in Glasgow, continued it in the Middle East, and intend to finish my dissertation in March 2019. I think my wife is looking forward to me finishing as much as I am. We've got three kids and without her I wouldn't have been able to consider starting this adventure.

What's the best piece of advice you've ever received?

I got it from Antoine Durand several years ago now, and I often find myself thinking about it. "It's not the job that makes the person, it's the person that makes the job." It's up to everyone to set the tone for their work. I think we all have to play the role of 'intrapreneur'. 

*Metal spraying is a method used in sailing, and entails applying zinc to the hull of a boat using a flame or electric arc, to protect it from rust caused by sea air and salty water.