A precursor to me joining the HYPER lab:
Halfway through my sophomore year of college, I joined the aerospace club at Washington state university. I first helped create zaggis (remote control glider planes), and learn to fly them, it was a great first project and a lot of fun. The club, at the time, was four people, self-elected officers myself being one, seeing as we needed four. Moving into the fall of my junior year after joining, the club elected on pursuing the intercollegiate sounding rocket engineering competition. I became a major contributor to the project. After many hours of SolidWorks modeling, carbon fiber layups, and deployment testing we had a most successful test launch followed by a successful launch and recovery at competition. It was through the club that I met members of the lab that worked on genii (hydrogen powered UAV).
Joining the lab:
My time in the hyper lab began with a need to expand the computational capability of the lab. The lab had the funding and need for a storage server as well as an engineering simulation. I designed and built the built the two machines because it sounded like a fun project. After completing and setting up both machines I began helping clean and move into what is now the TFRB lab space. After spending the summer working in the lab, there was an opening and a need for someone to do CFD work on a grant with NREL. I guess it made sense since I built the computer to run it on. Turns out it was an entirely different beast. The next year I spent learning and using CFD to simulate the performance of the vortex tube. At first using COMSOL then, after learning the software was not apt for the specific problem, then using ANSYS Fluent for the remainder of the project. During this time (since simulations took between 2 to 12 hours to run) I would assist other graduate students in the lab and unfortunately the occasional homework assignment. During this time, I asked a lot of questions and doing so gained a lot of knowledge on cryogenics, hydrogen, as well as strengthening my thermodynamics and heat transfer. Cryogenic fluids and the use of REFPROP, EES, and other software tools especially useful (see end). After the conclusion of the vortex tube project, it resulted in a contribution to a publication and useful insights on comparing vortex tube performance in liquefaction systems. The work is continued in a way by Carl Bunge (who earned a NASA grant to study the vortex tube for TVS systems).
Now, this is about the time I graduated in Dec. 2016 with my bachelors in mechanical engineering. With no word back on the job applications I sent out, I was in luck! Jake had additional funding to design and test a vapor shroud for a hydrogen fuel tank (see Patrick’s posts). The first few months after graduation were spent applying to more jobs, writing papers for the cryogenic engineering conference (CEC), and completing the work on the vapor shroud (which is now published!).
A few months (around April) into this I get an email from a resume I submitted in December, asking to have a phone interview. I was ecstatic! I talked to the hiring manager and after the 30-minute call said they would like to fly me there for an interview. Of course, I agreed to it, the title being a cryogenic mechanical engineer, and the job description pretty well matching my experience. So, I fly down, have 4 one hour interviews with nearly the entire mechanical engineering group and the hiring manager. After which I learned they discussed in the hall between interviews and the manager said they were likely to give me an offer. I tried not to get my hopes too high, but it came through. Less than a week later the offer came through and I accepted the position. I started in about a month (end of July, this was now June). In the span of this month, I attended the CEC in Madison, WI, packed up my life and moved from Pullman to join the team at Lockheed Martin’s Santa Barbara Focalplane (SBF), (in Santa Barbara obviously). At the time of writing this, I am have been working there for 6 months and I am enjoying being able to learn from my coworkers and help deliver and design products every day.
As Jake requested, here are a few of the things that have been valuable and things that were missing from my university education as it may relate to my current position. I am lumping together my experience as it includes classes, WSU aerospace club projects, and hyper lab projects.
The opinions here are that of my own and do not reflect the opinions of WSU, the HYPER lab, or Lockheed Martin.
- Solidworks modeling and simulation
- I spend a decent amount of time designing in SolidWorks, the best practices have been especially useful in something I didn’t have to learn the hard way. Such as properly defining sketches, mates, and practicing the design of parts in a way others may understand.
- Solidworks simulation was especially useful to learn as the bridge to more advanced software (such as Ansys or Nastran) is typically done by a specialized analyst. Most small companies will also use this as it is wrapped in with the CAD package.
- Using pack and go is an essential tool in SolidWorks when dealing with hundreds of parts in a single day
- Ansys, Comsol, EES, and my simulation experience in the lab
- The vortex tube project is a part of why I got hired at my current position. Weekly I presented updates and information to a team. Working in a team was especially useful. I must thank Jake (though he might not realize it) for driving us to communicate in person as much as possible. I don’t believe there is a better mechanism to produce to accomplish an engineering project/problem. Email just is slow and doesn’t commutate intent. Slack is a good second though.
- I ended up learning many skills in the process:
- Ansys Fluent CFD
- Linux command line
- Python script wiring
- Compressible flow understanding
- Turbulence models and their applications
- Heavy Excel and PowerPoint use (also a common engineering communication tool)
- I’m sure I could think of more…
- Learning to use EES (Engineering Equation Solver) and Refprop I see as a very valuable tool I may use for the rest of my career. ($1200 is ridiculously cheap for professional engineering software) even if it could use a User interface update. Being able to quickly, and efficiently analyze a problem is very important, however, in my opinion, it is even more important for someone else to look at your work and understand what you did. (Excel is not very good at this). Working in a linear fashion allows it to read in a defined order, which is not evident in other software *cough excel *cough.
- Engineering Communication
- I can’t count how many presentations/project updates I gave while in the lab. Being able to communicate technical information clearly is especially important, this is something I do very frequently and all the practice paid off.
- Hands-on experience in the lab
- When I got the chance I would help work with experiments going on in the lab. I learned how to do tubing bends, connections, and all that is required to design a cryostat experiment. This remains my favorite part of being in the lab. I learned more putting things together and asking questions than I ever did reading textbooks and doing homework problems.
- Solidworks drawings, tolerances, and GD&T
- In my classes, there was little to no use or practice creating drawings complying with industry standards. ASME standards for drawings are used throughout the united states and does not have in the last 40 years of the drawing standards. I understand every company does it differently, but the communication language for mechanical engineers is drawings. This is a skill that needs to be practiced like everything else, it’s a sting to the training time for young engineers who have never created a drawing.
- It is especially important to be able to use the communication medium of drawings and work with a machine shop or manufacturer to build something real. Drawings are often created with recommendations from the manufacturer before being finalized. This is something I did in the lab, but there were few avenues for doing so in classes.
- Tolerance analysis was completely remiss in my schooling this is something I’ve already tackled 3 to 4 times and being able to do this is an important part of designing assemblies for manufacturing. Yes, this is especially important for one-off products to show whether something was made to spec. By communicating tolerances on a drawing (which are required for every dimension) a mechanical designer is saying to the manufacturer, it will work to the design intent and fit together if you are in this range.
- Resources to build something real
- When I say resources, I don’t necessarily mean fancy tools, 3D printing studios, and machine shops. A lot of what was missing for me was the funding and guidance to create a project. Creating a real project takes people, learning does not happen by just giving students the tools, slapping on safety rules, and saying go for it. It requires a community that encourages learning correct ways of using the tools. As an example, soldering a wire to something may seem easy, but when it comes to managing Electrostatic discharge, maintaining the life of the soldering tip, and learning material compatibility. That takes working alongside people who have been there. The alternative is having 5 soldering stations and students who have completed a mandatory safety course giving it a shot (often breaking tools, becoming frustrated and quitting).
- It would have also been used for real projects to have more of a place in the classroom. An example structure I might suggest: Professors being treated as mentors and not lecturers. A formal class you might sit, listen to someone talk about a subject for an hour, then resolve the problem he explained in two hours of homework to “reinforce the learning”. This may have a place in certain theory segments of engineering education, however, this is slow and time-consuming. Most classes are taught in chapters. Allowing a student to use a chapter to work on an extra-curricular project in place of classes can have immense value. Why should a student be asked to complete 5 buckling homework problems when a student can demonstrate the buckling of a rocket on launch, and cross-validate hand calculations with finite element software, as well as launch the rocket successfully! Having an option available would have been appreciated, I would prefer a project over homework assignments any day, even if it resulted in being more time-to complete.