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We talk with aeronautical engineer Patrick Riordan about the challenges of developing and navigating a career road map, Archimedes’ lever, and the Star Trek method for being perceived as a miracle worker.
- Although he’s enjoyed his career, Jeff isn’t ready to claim that he’s changed the world in any meaningful manner.
- Jeff points out that it is rare for business, personal, financial, self-esteem, and societal interests to simultaneously align.
- The E-Myth, a book by Michael E. Gerber, highlights the difficulty of starting a business as a technical “doer,” as the process of “doing” conflicts with the overarching goal of growing a business.
- Our guest for this episode is aeronautical engineer Patrick Riordan, a lead engineer for Liftoff Engineering Services, located in Melbourne, Florida.
- About ninety-three percent of engineering degree graduates started in an engineering program, where as only fifty percent of social science degree holders started their academic career in that particular major.
- Only about one in three engineering graduates works as an engineer (although many have moved on to managerial or non-engineering technical positions).
- According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are approximately 83,000 aeronautical engineers currently employed in the United States.
- A Designated Engineering Representative (DER) is an engineer who may interpret and approve technical data in coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
- The FAA has implemented a newer Organization Designation Authorization (ODA) program to certify engineers who may approve repairs, alterations and airworthiness.
- Patrick notes that modern aircraft design delegates limited, component-level responsibilities to a large number of engineers, each of whom is responsible for a small portion of the overall flight system.
- Jeff notes that during the course of our employment with a given firm, we have to balance our expectations of personal growth, a healthy work/life balance, reliable benefits and increasing compensation against the employer’s expectation that we will aid them in becoming more profitable.
- We discuss the Star Trek method for managing your boss’s expectations: under-promise and over-deliver.
- Jeff admits his patience with engineers working for him was frequently tested when he became a departmental manager.
- Employees increasingly expect that their career advancement will be self-directed.
- It’s easy to get discouraged when comparing your professional work to the “highlight reel” of engineering accomplishments one finds on the internet, according to Jeff.
- Patrick mentions a YouTube video showing quadcopters capable of tossing and catching an inverted pendulum.
- Jeff suggests engineers be specific about the relative importance they attach to career factors such as money, power, prestige, confidence, authority, leadership, wisdom, insight, respect, experience, and technical ability.
- Our guest notes that analysis skills are more valued in industries where prototyping is difficult or dangerous, while tinkering skills find greater favor in fields where prototypes are more easily produced.
- Average lifespans of S&P 500 companies are rapidly decreasing, with experts predicting that more than three-quarters of the S&P 500 in 2020 will be companies we’ve not heard of yet.
- Two-thirds of college students believe they’re going to “change the world.”
- Young people in their twenties want to be promoted every year or two, with more than 40% of them expecting to be in a management position within two years.
- Listeners can reach Patrick via email: patrick -=+ at +=- liftoffengineering dot com.
Thanks to Dave Nakayama for use of the image titled “rotate.” Podcast theme music by Paul Stevenson.
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We talk with mechanical engineer Tim Quinn about advances being made in the world of photonics, wave–particle duality, and optical computing in this episode of The Engineering Commons.
- Carmen is pleased that Google Fiber is coming to his neighborhood.
- Our guest for this episode is Tim Quinn, a design engineer who works for Thorlabs in Newton, New Jersey.
- Carmen asks if Thorlabs has established operations in the realm of Asgard.
- Tim participated in Formula SAE while attending Rutgers University.
- Photonics is the study of how light (whether visible or not) is generated, transmitted, modulated, detected, and amplified.
- A photon is the quantum for electromagnetic radiation. An electron absorbs or emits photons as it moves between atomic orbitals.
- Photomultiplier tubes are sensitive to the presence of visible, ultraviolet, and near-infrared light, allowing a single photon to be detected under the proper conditions.
- A charge-coupled device (CCD) is also able to detect photons, producing an increased number of charge carriers in response to heightened light levels. Not all photons will be sensed by a CCD; quantum efficiency describes the percentage of photons actually detected.
- Carmen asks about the difficulty of detecting a single photon.
- Tim thinks we’re still at least a decade away from practical applications of optical computing.
- Photons have a spin of 1, while electrons have a spin of 1/2.
- Jeff notes that optical computing might come of age just in time to keep Moore’s Law intact for another generation. Tim references a recent Wall Street Journal article (subscription required) about this matter.
- We chuckle recalling Dr. Evil’s desire for sharks with lasers.
- Tim notes that quantum cascade lasers are gaining in popularity, due to their high power output, wavelength tunability, and room temperature operation.
- Metrology is the science of measurement.
- One can measure minute dimensional differences using a Michelson interferometer.
- Lasers are used in direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) to form a solid part from powdered metal (YouTube video).
- Bicycle parts are being printed using DMLS.
- Mechanical compaction is a more traditional method for forming powdered metals in advance of sintering.
- Fiber Bragg gratings are but one of many applications for fiber optics in civil engineering.
- Advances continue to be made in manufacturing light-emitting diodes (LEDs), especially in blue wavelengths.
- LED lightbulbs are rapidly dropping in price; at the time of this episode a 60W (equivalent) bulb could be purchased for less than $3 at major retailers in the United States.
- Two-Photon Excitation Fluorescence Microscopy allows living tissue to be imaged to a depth of about one millimeter.
- A chemical compound that emits light upon absorbing energy from incoming light (of a higher frequency) is known as a fluorophore.
- Optogenetics is the science of using light to control neurons.
- The new Apple Watch uses reflective photoplethysmography to determine a user’s heart rate.
- Originally founded in 1955 as the Society of Photographic Instrumentation Engineers, the SPIE is now the leading professional society for optics and photonics technology.
- Globars emit radiation composed of wavelengths from approximately 4000 to 15,000 nanometers, and are often used as thermal light sources for infrared spectroscopy. By comparison, visible light falls in a range between 380 and 780 nm, while sunlight spans wavelengths from 100 to 1,000,000 nm.
- Our guest notes that the University of Arizona has a well-respected photonics program.
- Tim recommends an article from Laser Focus World magazine for those interested in pursuing a photonics-related career.
- Information about the photonics industry is also available at Photonics.com.
- Our guest can be contacted via email: tquinn -=+ at +=- thorlabs dot com, or timothy dot quinn dot jr -=+ at +=- gmail dot com.
Thanks to Steve Jurvetson for use of the image titled “Puddles of Light.” Podcast theme music by Paul Stevenson.
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Our conversation with mechanical engineer Jim Heilman delves into exciting advances being made with plastic materials, the types of molding equipment used to manufacture high-volume plastic parts, and whether or not the movie industry can be trusted to provide good career advice.
- Dustin Hoffman appeared in his first staring role as twenty-year old Benjamin Braddock in the 1967 movie, The Graduate. Benjamin was advised to go into plastics.
- The American Film Institute has listed the single word quotation, “Plastics,” as the 42nd most memorable movie quote in American cinema.
- Our guest for this episode is mechanical engineer Jim Heilman, who joined us previously for episodes about recruiting and empathy.
- Plastics is the third (or fourth) largest manufacturing industry in the United States.
- While natural plastics do exist, the majority of today’s plastics are derived crude oil, petroleum products, or natural gas.
- Bakelite was one of the first plastics made from synthetic components.
- Thermosetting polymers are usually liquid prior to being cured through the application of heat. Once hardened, a thermoset resin cannot be reshaped.
- Thermoplastics do not undergo a chemical change when heated, and can thus be repeatedly remolded. Thermoplastic polymers are commonly produced in pellets, before being shaped into their final product form by melting and pressing, or injection molding.
- Although work on recycling thermoset plastics continues, it is much easier to recycle thermoplastic polymers.
- Plastics used in commercial products can often be identified by the Resin Identification Code.
- The most widely used method of manufacturing plastic parts is injection molding, which forces hot liquid plastic into a metal mold. Once the polymer material cools, the solidified part is removed.
- A “sprue” is excess material that solidifies in a passageway between mold cavities.
- Most injection molds are constructed from tool steel, although aluminum molds can also be utilized (usually for lower production volumes).
- Thermoforming involves heating a sheet of plastic, then pulling a vacuum that causes the sheet to assume the profile of an underlying mold.
- Injection molding machines are categorized by their mold orientation (horizontal or vertical), clamping mechanism (hydraulic, mechanical, or electric) and their clamping tonnage.
- Good design practices can reduce parting lines on injection molded parts.
- Blow molding inserts hollow polymer material into the the interior of a mold, then uses air (or another fluid) to force the material to expand (like a balloon), causing it to assume the shape of the mold interior.
- Jim mentions LiquiForm technology, which uses consumable liquid instead of compressed air to hydraulically form and fill a molded container.
- Extrusion molding forces plastic through a die, thus forcing the heated material to assume a desired profile.
- Jeff relates extrusion molding to making shapes with a Play-Doh Fun Factory.
- Rotational molding distributes heated plastic around the interior of a hollow mold, causing the soft material to stick to the mold walls.
- Compression molding applies heat and pressure to plastic material as it sits within a mold.
- Our guest frequently uses the International Plastics Handbook (Osswald et al., 2006) and Injection Mould Design (Pye, 1989) as reference texts.
- Jim mentions several colleges known for their strength in plastics engineering:
- Scientific (or decoupled) molding attempts to optimize the molding process.
- Plastics firms make use of process engineers, project engineers, and manufacturing engineers.
- A new self-cleaning mold technology may further increase the productivity of injection molding.
- Jeff jokes about transparent aluminum, although researchers may yet make it a reality.
- Jim notes that Stratasys is the industry leader in 3D printing.
- Our guest sees a bright future for young engineers interested in plastics manufacturing.
- Listeners may reach Jim via email: discover -=+at+=- frontiernet -dot- net. He may also be reached via his company website.
Thanks to Steven Depolo for use of the image titled “Bottled Water Macros December 02, 20106.” Podcast theme music by Paul Stevenson.