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Interviewee: Associate Head of Mechanical Engineering
Interview Setting: Interview conducted in office of [professor's]
office in the mechanical engineering building. The interview was conducted
at 3:30 PM on Wednesday afternoon.
Affiliation with interviewee: Professor has been my professor
for two classes. I have also spoken with him privately regarding attending
graduate school and areas of study.
(Start of Interview)
Interviewer: Particularly in regard to design and development, what
are your duties as a mechanical engineer?
Interviewee: Do you mean before I took this position or in this position.
Interviewee: In my position I have now, about half of my time is devoted
to counseling and registration and other issues like that. About thirty
to forty percent of my time is involved with teaching, doing preparation,
helping out in the labs, and helping students. About five to ten percent
of my time is spent being involved in academic committees and working
with administrative items.
Interviewer: Do you do any research?
Interviewee: Most of my research is education-related. I have a grant
from the National Science Foundation to put some CNC machines in the student
labs to teach students.
Interviewer: What types of research did you do before when you were an
Interviewee: I worked primarily with acoustics and noise control, with
my emphasis being in active noise and vibration control. I worked with
the aircraft fuselage and all of the vibrations and noises created in
there and limiting their effects on the cockpit. Of course, automobile
engines are also very noisy being so close to the driver. I also worked
with compressors. I worked with really small compressors to really big
compressors. I worked on small refrigeration units using passive and active
control techniques. Youíd be surprised at how big an issue refrigerator
noise is overseas, in Europe and Asia with their tight living conditions.
I also worked with huge engine compressors of up to sixty horsepower.
Thatís really big for a university, you know. I also worked with reciprocating
compressors, screw compressors, scroll compressors, and rotary compressors.
Interviewer: Most of your current grants are education-related though,
Interviewee: Thatís right, most of them are related to education. But
I donít have much time in this job now to do that though. I feel that
I need to teach with this job, because I need to have that link to the
curriculum and the students.
Interviewer: How much contact have you had with industry?
Interviewee: I had quite a bit of contact when I worked as an associate
professor. I spent quite a bit of time at the Herrick Labs. I worked with
a couple of United Technologies companies, Sikorkey Helicopter and Carrier
Corporation, who does refrigeration, Aspera, which is an Italian company
that makes compressors, General Motors, and some governmental work.
Interviewer: Did you ever work out in industry before you became a professor?
Interviewee: I worked at NASA-Langley for a year after I graduated with
my masters. It really isnít like industry though. Itís an academic environment.
Itís a very research-oriented environment. I also received an educational
grant about a year ago to work the summer at Boeing. I worked in Philadelphia
with the rotorcraft division. They make all levels of military aircraft.
They make the Belle Boeing 609, which is a lot like a V-22. It takes off
like a helicopter, straight up, and then the wings turn over and it flies.
They also work on CH-47, which is a very old helicopter, in a support
mode. They also do some work with the commanche attack helicopter. As
you can tell, they work at a lot of different levels in the design.
Interviewer: What is the difference between designing for a new product
versus an older product?
Interviewee: There are a lot of challenges no matter what the product.
The military has been bringing old CH-47ís in to be repaired. Boeing has
been gutting them out, leaving just a shell, and completely replacing
the interior equipment. All of the design used to be on paper. The new
Boeing 777 was a paperless design. They did a fly-through on the computer
to check for interferences and other problems. One of the big issues with
the CH-47 was whether to recreate this on the computer. Itís a difficult
decision. It would make it a lot easier to make changes but it would take
a lot longer. So they decided not to do it for this product.
Interviewer: What skills are necessary for a mechanical engineer to possess?
Interviewee: Number 1 is the technical skills. Youíve got to have those.
Next are communication and teamwork skills. There is a need for intangibles
to be successful. One of the big things at Boeing was timing. They had
to pull together over 1,000,000 parts to make the 777. The engine had
to come in at the right time to be connected to the fuselage, which had
to be connected to other parts. I realized that what Boeing was doing
was just a large-scale integration project. It requires a phenomenal amount
of communication and scheduling. Being able to plan and schedule things
is so important. Youíre always behind time, over budget, and have to get
deliverables to the customer. You have to make a decision with incomplete
information. Itís a lot of gut feel and just making your best engineering
judgement and taking your best shot.
Interviewer: What are the worst skills, or characteristics, for an engineer
Interviewee: In some jobs, being highly individualistic can be a killer.
Not in all jobs, but in some jobs. In a research environment, where an
engineer can go off and do his own thing, that can be okay. But in the
vast majority of jobs, not being strong in communication, and of course,
technical skills, can have a very negative impact on your career. In fact,
in a survey in the ASME magazine about two or three years ago, the top
two skills employers wanted were communication skills and teamwork skills.
Interviewer: What is the difference between the academic world and industry?
I know there are some similarities too, what are those?
Interviewee: In the academic world, people tend to be more reflective,
more analytical, and less hands-on. Thatís not always the case, but it
tends to be that way. Itís partially because people who are attracted
to this environment tend to be that way. In industry, the people tend
to be more hands-on but the analytical skills tend to atrophy when not
used. The academic environment cultivates those skills. But the environment
is changing. There are more hands-on activities being added to the curriculum,
along with some tighter links to industry. There is more of a need to
be an entrepreneur and salesmen.
Interviewer: What is the typical day in the life of a mechanical engineer
Interviewee: A typical day varies radically for mechanical engineers depending
on the job you have. A guy doing research is more independent, a guy doing
customer service is dealing with people all day long, while a manager
deals mainly with projects. It can really vary depending on what you want
Interviewer: What can a person do to improve their situation?
Interviewee: The first thing is to define the companyís best practices.
Define the process and look for ways to improve the process, to make it
more efficient. I think thatís the idea behind the 9000 stuff, like ISO
9000 and QS 9000, to document the process. Unfortunately, some people
just go through the motions, which is really a shame and a waste of time.
Youíve got to take it seriously to do things the most efficient way. But
I think the real key issue is getting people in areas they love to work.
When you do that, the effort will be there. For example, I met a young
engineer at Boeing who had been hired three times in the last three years
by Boeing. She loved working with people and making decisions. Unfortunately,
in her first two jobs she only made decisions once every two or three
months and she hated it. Now they have her in a people where sheís working
with people and making decisions and she loves it. I think itís real important
for companies to match people with what they love to do.
Interviewer: In general, what methods or criteria are used to evaluate
Interviewee: At Boeing, the backs of the engineerís badges have criteria
that is wanted for the engineers to work on at Boeing. There are twelve
things: technical skills, communications, teamwork, initiative, productivity,
continuous quality improvement, customer satisfaction, innovation and
creativity, integrity Ė thatís really become a big issue in industry,
especially at Boeing when I was there with the merger and all, leadership,
risk-taking, and developing people.
Interviewer: I find it interesting to see that risk-taking is on there.
It seemed like that has never been encouraged at GM.
Interviewee: Well, you canít just go taking incredible risks. They are
Interviewer: When designing a new product, what issues are typically given
the most consideration?
Interviewee: Again, it varies depending on the product. First, you have
to understand the customer and find a way to give them what they want.
You have to get a sense of where the market is going. Take inline skates.
They came out of nowhere and now theyíre selling four million skates a
year. It was a local market in California and they took it national. Being
able to see needs is very important and having the creativity to know
how to meet them is the hard part.
Interviewer: Is the procedure for process development similar to that
Interviewee: Yeah, Iíd say theyíre similar. You need to do some benchmarking
on whatís out there to see where you stand and brainstorm to find what
you can do.
Interviewer: How are design procedures developed and followed in corporations?
Interviewee: Wow, those procedures vary greatly and to tell you the truth,
I donít think theyíre followed very tightly. Part of the problem is that
I donít think they are stated explicitly. You donít want to be rigid,
but you need to be efficient. You need to come up with a plan and extrapolate
what you can based on your design. Itís a real art at this stage. It needs
to be tailored to what you are trying to accomplish. There are multiple
approaches to this, but it really needs to be designed explicitly and
improved from there.
Interviewer: What does a graduating mechanical engineer need to know that
he probably does not know?
Interviewee: Itís not so much what you donít know as much as it is what
will change. The things you like to do now might now be what you like
to do in the future. Interest change in time and there must be a willingness
to change with them. I think another important thing to recognize for
some students is that your whole life is not your job. It can be very
easy to ignore other things, but I think the real key is balance. The
ME program is very rigorous and everyone is working very hard, and as
a result sometimes they donít recognize the need for balance.
Interviewer: Thanks for your time.
Interviewee: Youíre welcome.
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