To all current and prospective engineers out there, happy Engineers Week! We'd like to start this week with an interview with Scott Wertel, a degreed mechanical engineer and registered professional engineer in the state of Arizona. He is also a member of NSPE, ASME and SAE, as well as a blogger and Twitterer.
Scott began his career on the drafting board, and has progressed in 3D modeling through nearly every CAD package, including our NX and Solid Edge, as well as CATIA, SolidWorks, Pro/Engineer and Alibre Design.
See part 1 of our interview below where Scott addresses why he became an engineer, career highlights, how engineering has changed since he graduated and why he blogs.
On blogging, Scott notes: "I would like to think that my little corner of world and the experiences I share are being read by at least one young engineer who is able to use these experiences to further their career in a positive direction."
Why did you become an engineer?
Scott: "Actually, I’ve always wanted to become an astronaut. But, way back in elementary school the qualifications for becoming an astronaut included having 20/20 vision. I didn’t qualify, so I changed my dreams to something more general – working in space. Having a strong inclination towards math and science, engineering seemed to be the best way to obtain that dream. It is also a very good stepping stone to astronauthood if NASA were to ever change their criteria. I’m happy to say they have, but by that time I had already settled into my career and opted to not apply when I had the chance."
Is there a particular highlight so far to your career - a very interesting project you've been involved with?
Scott: "You wouldn’t instinctively think this about an introverted analytical type, but the most interesting projects I remember are because of the people I worked on the project with, not the project or technology itself. There are two projects that I still remember the fondest.
A. I was designing a chem-etch/chem-mill fixture for the aft boom of a new fighter jet. This is a $1.5M piece of hardware that has to be dipped into a destroys-absolutely-everything-on-contact chemical bath for 10 seconds, plus or minus 1. During those 10 seconds I need to rotate this massive piece of hardware to get all the air bubbles out, and can only use 316L stainless and PVDF plastic. No other materials will survive, and even these don’t last forever. PVDF is for contacting the titanium, or the titanium pits – scrapping the hardware. Of course, every point of contact has to be grinded by hand since the chemical won’t etch those points – adding significant cost. And any air bubbles also have to be grinded by hand. This project had so much visibility that I often had to go toe-to-toe with the VP of this fighter jet development program to justify my design. Not easy to do as a recent grad, but an experience I still remember.
B. The second project I remember most is an assembly fixture for the Delta IV Expendable Launch Vehicle movable assembly line being built in Huntsville, AL. This project was transferred from another design group that was already late and exceeded the budget, yet still hadn’t finalized a workable concept. I got chosen for the project because of my ability to quickly learn CAD software, and this project was being designed in UG (NX) instead of our usual CATIA. (Or maybe perhaps because of how well I did on design a.) All the tasks were randomly handed out, and I happened to get the most difficult design. A huge challenge for a recent grad. The design had to translate in X & Y, lift in Z, rotate about the Z axis, and fold down to be able to slide out from underneath the rocket which is getting assembled on its side. If you don’t know, a rocket's aluminum skin is thin, like a soda can, and deforms to egg-shape under its own weight when on its side. That means any assembly fixtures have to support the structure to maintain its circular shape. Temporary stiffening rings are usually added, but those weren’t available for my portion of the assembly, making it even more challenging. Designing for tight tolerances of air bearings and seeing operators flame bend 2” thick steel plate to an accuracy within a few thousandths. WOW! And do it all with a lower cost than what was spent by the first design team and quick enough to reclaim schedule. Lower cost means we actually had hardware built and still spent less money than the first design team spent to have an unworkable concept. This team I worked with were incredible."
How has engineering changed during your career?
Scott: "I started my career as a draftsman, on the board, with a pencil and erasing shield getting sick on the smell of ammonia while making blue prints of entire machines for the shop to build and assemble. I used to be able to lay down 1/8 inch guidelines for lettering without having to measure. My printing used to be neat and legible. I miss having the large desk space to spread out my work. I miss having the adjustable drafting table so I could alternate my work area from sitting to standing. I miss the pace of the work and my engineering notebook with scribbled calculations that only made sense while I was working them out. That engineering lifestyle allowed for more time for inspiration and a better understanding of the problem and solution. The transition to 2D CAD and then 3D CAD decreased the development time that it is now 90% perspiration. There is little time to ponder problems and get a complete grasp of the design. Engineers are offloading their skills and toolsets to software tools, expecting the software to do their job for them because they no longer have the time to. I used to know how many bolts of a certain size existed on any section of the machine I was designing. I could tell you how many machining setups were needed for each part. I used to be able to spend time thinking about those things, and designing for manufacturing, assembly, and maintenance before those became buzzwords. The pace of technical advances is astounding and I am proud to be a part of it. But I think there needs to be time for the engineering culture to advance as well."
Scott: "I blog for many reasons, but the main reason happens to also be the most altruistic one. I was very lucky during my entire career to have good mentors. One of my philosophies in life is 'if you want to be a good person, surround yourself with good people.' I have had good engineers in my life since before college. Although I really don’t know what the demographics of my (very limited) readership is, I would like to think that my little corner of world and the experiences I share are being read by at least one young engineer who is able to use these experiences to further their career in a positive direction. Blogging has also opened up new opportunities for me, introduced me to new people, and has been a tool for me to expand my writing skills. I believe that engineers have a lot to say, it’s just hard for us to communicate it to the general public. Blogging forces me to consolidate my thoughts into a format that is comprehensible to non-engineers. Blogging provides a meaningful hobby that sharpens my communication skills, skills that I can take back to the board room also."
Come back tomorrow for part 2 of this interview - where Scott addresses how social media has impacted his work, why the design process should be turned upside down, the importance of professional licensing and engineering education. Also check out much more on Engineers Week via the Twitter #engineersweek conversation.
Leave any comments or additional questions for Scott below.