Hub Mold Company
Batavia is a small city in New York where I had my first real job and apartment. I graduated from Attica High School in 1983 and had taken two years of vocational education as a machinist in the New York State Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) program. Every day in 11th and 12th Grade we would take a bus to Batavia to the BOCES school machine shop. The program taught every aspect of the machinist trade including drafting. Toward the end of my senior year The manager of Hub Mold, a local tool and die shop in Batavia, asked the machine shop instructor to send the two best students over for an interview. I got the job and started the day after graduation. The job required me to be enrolled in the New York State Apprentice Tool and Die Maker Journeyman program. We took night classes for math and drafting in Rochester and kept a log of our hours and jobs we had worked on. Hub Mold focused mainly on die casting molds, but also made envelope dies, hobbing tools, and some custom made stamping tools. I could see the changes in the industry and we were loosing more and more customers to Taiwan. I thought the best thing I could do to further my education and expand my opportunities was to join the military and get out of Batavia.
United States Air Force
I enlisted in the US Air Force in late 1982, but couldn't start basic training till the following spring. I went out to California with my father and worked as a plumber, dishwasher and cook. After basic training in San Antonio, Texas my technical school assignment took me to Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. It seemed kind of redundant to take the machinist technical training, but the Air Force would not waive it. About half way through the program we got our assignments. My orders were for Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma. I tried to swap assignments with anybody who had orders overseas. The only person who would swap with me was going to the 57th Fighter Interceptor Squadron in Iceland. I jumped at the opportunity. There were only two machinists assigned to the machine shop -- me and my boss. About half way through my one year tour, he left on emergency leave and I was the only machinist on the island. It was tough because I was always on call, but I got a lot of recognition because of the critical nature of my job.
After finishing my tour in Iceland, I was assigned to the 12th Fighter Training Squadron at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas. They had a huge machine shop with a large staff of civilian machinists. We performed depot level maintenance on T-37 and T-38 aircraft. It was a great chance to work on very critical systems of the airframe rather than just pulling stripped screws and the making the occasional custom part that could not be ordered. We did a lot of structural repairs to cracked airframe components. One of my suggestions even earned me $600. I had been taking college courses with the Community College of the Air Force for over a year and thought that cross training to be a Wing Historian would allow me to learn more. The technical training was in Montgomery, Alabama and I tutored under the 12th Fighter Training Wing historian at Randolph until my assignment to Kirtland Air Force Base began. I worked there on General Frank K. Martin's staff at the Air Force Office of Security Police. We were responsible for all the security police and law enforcement in the entire Air Force and my job was to document a contemporary history of our mission. Every year we would host the Peacekeeper Challenge where every security police squadron would send a team to compete in events like air base defense, confidence course, machine gun range competition, to name a few. I did one more tour at Air Forces Iceland headquarters and finished my enlistment to go back home and complete my college degree.
When I got out of the Air Force, I enrolled for classes at Erie Community College (ECC) in Orchard Park, New York. George Hemann hired me as a plumbers helper and the flexible hours allowed me to continue my course work at ECC. After a year of course work, Rochester Institute of Technology accepted my application and I started classes there. The commute to Rochester three times a week was killing me, so I quit my job and moved into the dorms at RIT to focus on my studies.
Four Square Construction
The first couple of years of the degree program allow students to take a summer break. I needed to earn some money for college. My family had a small construction company that was building resort homes in the small town of Angel Fire, New Mexico. We built a custom cedar home manufactured by International Homes of Cedar. It was a really interesting construction job, because the home is delivered to the site as a complete kit. The plans detail construction and location of each individual piece. Each has a code on it and the order of construction is critical. We were able to complete the project on time and within budget and I went back to school in the fall.
Empire Power Research Institute
One of my college professors was working on a research project for Empire Power Research Institute to develop better condenser tube materials and profiles. I did really well in his course and he hired me as a research assistant to help with testing and data collection. We had a scale replica of a power plant steam condenser system at RIT. Our grant was to test various condenser tube materials and configurations to determine accurate Reynolds data on them I was responsible for maintenance and troubleshooting sensors, pumps, servo valves, and a water cooling system. One graduate student and I were able to quadruple data production by implementing streamlined startup/shutdown procedures and solving recurring problems. We also reduced boiler maintenance by establishing a program of monitoring boiler water chemistry. At the end of the project, my name was published in the report as part of the team.
I ran out of money and steam in the spring of 1995. RIT was grinding me down and the responsibilities I'd taken on as part of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) solar racing team took my focus off of course work I was suspended from school and had to go back to work. In retrospect, the experience of driving the solar team to it's goal at Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (NESEA) Tour De Sol race in 1994 was the right thing to do. My experience and education made it relatively easy to find a designer/drafter job at Leica and I continued my education part time while living in Buffalo and saving money. Leica made a variety of educational microscopes, hand held refractometers, and laboratory equipment. My job was to use Pro-Engineer to design components and assemblies for these products. I'd only used Pro-E a little working with the SAE Formula team at RIT, so Leica sent me to Chicago to attend a week long intensive training course. I was really impressed with the capabilities of Pro-E compared with some of the other CAD packages that I'd worked with. Proper data organization is critical with this software and soon, I was one of the "power users". The design structure of an assembly in Pro-E reflects the structure of the Bill of Materials and the assembly procedure for the entire product. This makes it very important to work closely with the Manufacturing Engineers and the supply organization to ensure the structure is correct.
Working on optical products is fascinating, especially the microscopes. Leica made compound microscopes and stereomicroscopes. Most people are familiar with the compound microscope from high school biology class. The stereo microscopes use two complete optical systems with one dedicated to each eye. When the user looks through the optics, it creates a 3-D effect while greatly magnifying the object in view. These are used in many industries because the image is formed from reflected light rather than transmitted light. This means that slides do not have to be prepared to view an object. The semiconductor industry uses them heavily in circuit board manufacturing to inspect components. This type of microscope is also used by the law enforcement community to compare tool marks and bullet markings in a criminal investigation.
Another interesting product was the refractometers. These instruments use the refractive properties of light to determine the density of a liquid on the surface of a prism. Light below a certain angle inside a prism is totally reflected based on the refractive index of the prism and the media on the other side. This is Snell's law of refraction. Using this property, the angle that a beam of light is bent can be read on a scale, either electronic or optical. Knowing the density is directly related to the sugar content, alcohol concentration, coolant mixture, etc. Specialized products can easily be made to measure these fluids.
I designed a micro-fluidic flow cell for the AR-600 bench top digital refractometer. This accessory clamped onto the sample well and used a peristaltic pump to present a continuous flow of product to the prism. The refractometer was programmed to take and record a reading on specific time intervals. This data gave a continuous record of the industrial process that was being monitored. The product was never marketed and just kind of sat around. After I left the company, the product was transferred to Germany and one of the engineers found the box containing this idea. They applied for a patent and one of my friends saw the announcement. He made them put my name on the patent, since it was my idea after all. It was my first patent application.
After I got laid off from Leica, Neeraj Jain, Director of Labomed found out and offered me a chance to come to India to help implement production of the CME microscope that we designed at Leica. He knew that I had done a lot of the design work on this product and wanted me to come to India. It was a great personal and professional opportunity. When I got there one of the first things I saw was the casting for the frame of the CME microscope. The shape and design scheme were done by Werner Hölbl and had a sleek, sexy appeal. It was the first time I had seen the actual physical casting. Prior to that it was a greenish 3-D image on a computer screen. Right there on the wall was the machining drawing that I had done at Leica. It was pretty emotional, like seeing your baby born.
Peterson Pacific Corporation
Winter Season 2001-2002
The world trade center attacks crushed the capitol intensive forestry industries, leading to PPC loosing half their orders for the year. The response was to cut 1/3 of the engineering department. In my opinion, this was suicidal because that is the time to invest in your products so you have something new and innovative to offer when the business comes back. They lost engineers with 30 years of experience that vowed never to return.
Vail Resorts at Beaver Creek
Winter Season 2001-2002
Since things had always been tough in Eugene, and now they were even tougher. I decided to head to pack up my snowboard gear and head for the Rocky Mountains. My brother Travis and his wife Michelle lived in Avon and both worked for Vail Resorts at Beaver Creek. It took me 22 hours to drive there from Oregon and by 9:30 the next morning, I had a job as an equipment operator for the resort at Beaver Creek. Clyde Schlegel was in charge of the Beaver Creek Village Metro department. We were responsible for maintaining roads and infrastructure on the resort and clearing snow in the winter. We used big Freightliner and International dump trucks with a plow, wing plow, and sander on them. I had a commercial drivers' license since my time in the service. This made all the extra testing and expense over the years to maintain it worthwhile. The metro department was split into two crews and each crew worked four days, 10 hour days per day. Both crews were on duty Wednesday so we could do the big jobs in the middle of the week when there were not so many guests. My week was Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 5AM to 3:30PM. If we got all of our work done early, I could clock out at three and get up on the mountain for a few runs. I met some really interesting people and had the time of my life snowboarding nearly 100 days that season. I think everybody should work at a ski resort for a season -- and anybody that has worked for a ski resort for more that ten years should go get a real job.
Neighborhood Electric Vehicle Company
When I first moved to Eugene, I met the Neighborhood Electric Vechile Company (NEVCO) crew through a mutual friend. They were not hiring full time, but would pay me when they needed extra help. I was still doing contract work for Labomed at their facility in Fremont, California and helping my father with his plumbing business. Basically, I was working anywhere that would pay me to make ends meet. NEVCO's primary product was a small three wheeled electric commuter vehicle. It was an innovative design that was simple to manufacture, fun to drive, and surprisingly safe for it's size. After I got back from Colorado, Carl Watkins brought me in full time as the engineer and production worker. I did a lot to help document the design and streamline the part ordering process. We got a contract to produce some parade vehicles to simulate the F-22 Raptor for the Air Force. This was a complete design job from the ground up. We purchased a 3-D file of the aircraft and had a machine shop scale up the design and produce a plug from foam so we could laminate the body. Additionally, we had to create a frame and chassis to provide the functionality for the vehicle. In the end, the whole deal fell through because of a contract dispute with the company that was to produce the composite shell. The company went bankrupt shortly after that. The only thing that made sense for me to do was go back to RIT and finish my degree.
Stone Construction Equipment
2005 to 2006
While I was finishing up my degree requirements at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) there was a requirement to complete two additional quarters of coop with an employer in a degree related field. I worked at Stone Construction Equipment as a Pro Engineer (Pro-E) designer. Stone Construction Equipment manufactures equipment used in the construction industry such as cement mixers, compactors, rollers, concrete finishers, and many other types of small equipment. They are one of the most highly recognized manufacturers within the equipment rental industry because their products are tough and durable. My primary function was designing welding and assembly fixtures for their new asphalt paving roller. The machine is built from plate burns welded together and fixturing and welding proceedure are critical to product quality. Each component must have a simple, easy to use fixture so the welding shop gets the right component in the correct location every time. Pok-a-yoke devices were employed in all fixtures to eliminate mistakes on the production floor. I worked closely with engineers, drafters, machinists, and factory labor to ensure efficient production of tooling.
Magna Powertrain, New Process Gear
When I worked for Magna Powertrain, New Process Gear, in Syracuse. They originally hired me as a VA/VE Cost Reduction Engineer. I jumped right into my job and took over managing the Seal Commodity Team, The Stamping Commodity Team, and the Chain Commodity Team. The importance of the VA/VE group increased due to budget pressure from our corporate headquarters we got more staff. I was able to focus entirely on re-sourcing seals, with a focus on developing low cost country vendors. We worked with Zhongding in China and Arai in Japan and India.
While I was working for New Process Gear, an opportunity to work in China for six months was offered to me. This is kind of funny because since the day I started working there, I'd said "I want to go to China" 10,000 times. I worked for a year and a half on the seal team. We were pursuing a Chinese seal vendor named Zhongding and I tried to plan a trip to evaluate the production facility and their testing equipment and capabilities. Nobody would authorize me go and the project died on the vine. When this assignment came up, I wasted no time, got my visa, scheduled a flight, and was in China a week later. My mission at HAVECO was to oversee validation testing and production development of a manual transaxle. A Russian auto manufacturer had bought a 20% stake in Magna. New Process Gear was asked to help, since they had the equipment and expertise to help HAVECO validate and manufacture this transaxle. We were able to meet all of our deadlines and timing targets.