Listen to the audio interview here or read it below.
I am a mechanical design engineer and I’ve been doing that for about 25 years.
Describe the title and what that entails on a day to day basis.
As a mechanical design engineer, my primary function is to design and shape the individual parts of a build and fit them into the larger assembly – so anything that needs to be designed other than electronics, although we do design how those fit into the product for function.
This goes from concepting and prototyping stuff all the way to product development and doing final drawing and then seeing that all the way through to manufacturing.
How you do it? Talk about the tools or software you use on a daily basis.
The primary software we use at my current company is SOLIDWORKS. In the past I’ve used other formats like CATIA which is more for the automotive industry as well as UGNX and others that are out there. Other tools include things like micrometers and counters.
Sometimes in our designs we use parts that are off the shelf. It would be a matter of finding a CAD model of an existing part that we can use in your assembly or sometimes you have to order the part and do your own measurements and then build based on that.
Does each industry have a different standard software they like to work with.
I would say probably SOLIDWORKS is more widely used in consumer product development as it’s one of the less expensive CAD modules out there. And then CATIA is more automotive and aerospace – a more high end product.
What motivates you? Why do you do what you do?
I’ve always considered myself to be a more creative person and loved building things. As a kid, my brother and I had a huge lego box. We came from the day where you didn’t have a set you build but rather a box full of random parts and pieces and created whatever we could. And I kinda look at that like I do the same this just in a different way. It’s now more in a virtual world where I take same pieces and having the ability to create larger assemblies that I can turn into something that someone can actual use. We manufacture a device that connects to a person’s wheelchair to help propel them using a power assist. We’re a very small company so, at times, I’m able to go to the user shows where you get to demonstrate the product to people who have never used it before and to see them try it and how easy it is to use and realize how much it is going to change their lives because it’s more mobility than they might have had before.
Did you always want to do this?
The honest answer is no. When i graduated from high school I actually wanted to get into movie production and I wanted to write and direct and that’s kinda where I started when I first came out of school. And then life changes and I started working for an electronics company and I was a quality technician.
There where people who worked on, back then, AUTOCAD, which is essentially a 2D CAD program and there where two people that worked there on it and I just thought “How cool is that. You get to site there on a computer and draw all day.” I used to like to draw and what not so I decided to try that. It all really kinda took of from there.
Do you need a degree to do what you do?
I think it certainly helps to have a school degree. The way I went about it was obviously not the most direct way – and I wouldn’t recommend that way, but seeing these people do CAD led to me just taking a course in AUTOCAD and just got my certificate in it. It just happened – there’s been a lot of luck in my life – it happened that after I got the certification, that the people who did the CAD works at the company left. That opened up a position – and I got it.
The next company I worked at did things in 3D and it functioned a bit like a band – 1st chair, 2nd chair, 3rd chair. When you first get in you’re like 6th chair and you’re doing all the Cad stuff and you’re like the grunt guy.
But as you stay and show your ability, you get to move up toward the front of the office and those are the guys that got to do the 3D Cad. So eventually, I bided my time and did my work and got up there and they actually paid for me to go learn the 3D software.
Are their people in your industry you look at for inspiration?
We really look at companies like Microsoft and Google and the engineering their doing and then stay aware of companies in our industry. With Microsoft we are looking at their work in artificial intelligence and Google at their work with autonomous vehicles and we try and incorporate some of those things into the powerchairs.
What advice would you give to students unsure about what direction to choose?
Sure, I have a 21 year old daughter and I always tell her “If you do something you love it doesn’t really seem like work. To many people go to school to be a doctor cause they heard that you’ll make lots of money, but their hearts not in it. I don’t care if your making $20,000 a year, if you love what you’re doing then do that.”