Monday, December 30, 2013

Should Engineers Be Registered?

In December 2013, I was asked to provide an overview of Aircraft Engineering to the Piedmont Chapter of the South Carolina Society of Professional Engineers. Recently, the legislature in South Carolina was petitioned to change the law exempting aircraft companies from the requirement of registration for their engineers. This stirred up a lot of questions in the PE community, particularly how aircraft engineering is regulated and accountable. Hopefully, these reflections will provide some clarity. And, of course, this is flavored with my opinion, too.

To be clear up front, I support certification of all engineers. When I go into a doctor's office, I am always appreciative to see that my doctor has been board certified and has demonstrated having met at least a minimum set of requirements. I encourage all our employees to take and pass the PE exam. At a minimum, a certified engineer should oversee and approve completed engineering. However, the PE exam is not the only way to be certified. In fact, I will go as far as saying, a PE certification may not be appropriate for aircraft design approval.

Next to the medical industry, arguably there is no other industry more regulated than the aircraft business. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) provides oversight for both the design and production of aircraft. Through the delegated authority process (FAA order 8100), qualified engineers assure that the regulatory requirements are met and that the aircraft type design is approved. Authority is delegated based on demonstrated abilities. Designated Engineering Representatives (DER) are the equivalent of a PE in the aircraft engineering business.

So, should states exempt aircraft companies from the legal requirements for state registration? I believe the answer is YES, provided that the aircraft company follows the FAA process. Many professional engineers fear that the aircraft exemption will lead to exemptions for other industries. Perhaps other exemptions are appropriate. But, a qualified certification program that demonstrates a minimum level of competency should always be a requirement. In most cases, state registration is the best choice.

The Drive That Captured The Moon

It's hard to imagine. 110 years ago, the Wright Brothers took their first flight. Consider how much has changed in 110 years. In fact, consider what took place in the first 60 years. From December 17, 1903 to July 20, 1969, roughly two generations, the industry went from the primitive powered flight to putting a man on the moon. What a great time to be an engineer. Think about how many technological advancements that came out of the space program.

Arguably, the 1960's was a decade of aerospace technology advancement like none other. In September, 1962; President John F. Kennedy made his famous moon speech at Rice University. The following is an excerpt from that speech.

"We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too."

The Cold War fueled our drive to the moon. The Russians said that they would be the first to the moon. They planned to plant their flag to claim the moon for Russia. This increased the pressure to reach the moon. After Kennedy's death, Lyndon Johnson committed to continue the drive to the moon stating, “I do not believe that this generation of Americans is willing to resign itself to going to bed each night by the light of a Communist moon."

Does it take fear and war to drive American engineering? It's been 44 years since the first moon landing. Still, the United States is the only country to send human beings safely to the moon. Our engineers did it without the computing capability we enjoy today. They did it with slide rules, controlled testing, planned development, but most of all a drive that galvanized the nation. My question: Could we do the same thing today? What's happened to our spirit?

High school students aren't interested in engineering anymore. American students are more interested in writing gaming software, studying political science, or protesting for social justice. Meanwhile, foreign students are the overwhelming majority in graduate engineering programs and China is developing plans to send human beings back to the moon. What kind of challenge will revive American engineering? We need to recapture that spirit that put the first man on the moon.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Engineering Value

OK, I'll admit it. Yes. I have started to shop for Christmas gifts. I know it's only the first week of November. Actually, this early shopping is way off the norm for me. I disdain shopping crowds and wasting time in stores. Usually, I know exactly what I plan to purchase and wait until the last possible minute to get it. So, most of my shopping research is done at home on the Internet. Then I make my purchase when I know exactly what I want to buy for that special someone. In my research, I look for the best product and the best price. I want the best value.

I think we all look for the best value, however I don't think we have a common understanding of value. Value ties requirements to cost. The best product could mean a lot of different things. Value is not always the least expensive product. For example, I can buy an echo manual can opener for a whole lot less than a Hamilton Beach automatic electric can opener. Both do a great job, but one requires more work on my part. If I want to minimize my effort, the less expensive echo is not the best value for me.

At KTM Solutions, our company develops the engineering for new products that support a variety of industries. From aircraft structures to manufacturing automation, we support all areas. Value for one industry is defined differently than another simply because each has it's own unique requirements. Since all consumers want value (whether private or corporate), it is important that engineers understand the parameters that drive the value equation. In order to engineer value, proper and complete requirements definition is always the first place to start.

Are you getting the value you expect from your engineering team? If not, let's talk. Perhaps we can help drive value into your products.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Smart Systems - The Internet of Things

Have you heard of the Internet of Things? Although I have heard of similar ideas, this is a new area I've begun to study. Cyber links between machines. Machines"talking" to other machines. For instance, the technology allows machines to self monitor and sends feedback signals to other machines or human interfaces enabling preventative maintenance. Essentially, as the technology grows and machines are designed to self respond, machines will be able to self heal and continue down the path toward artificial intelligence. Does this sound far fetched? Not really. In fact, in some industries the machines have already begun to process diagnostics and perform internal maintenance.

Consider aircraft maintenance. For several years, the data management system has monitored aircraft systems and reported when maintenance was required. Some are beginning to be more proactive and diagnose potential issues. Another example, although less technical, automobiles are informing drivers when the oil needs to be changed and tires need air. Some automotive models also sense when collisions might occur. The latest BMW X5 will parallel park itself and can essentially drive its self on interstate highways.

So, given where this is going, it's not hard to imagine a world where machines are designed to take care of themselves. The machines will "know" when they need maintenance. Suppose the machine "determines" that a bearing needs maintenance. The machine will automatically submit an order for a replacement part and begin to limit the loads it will accept until the maintenance is accomplished. Perhaps the bearing is worn beyond use, so the machine will take itself off line, sends a message to a "partner" machine so that the partner can pick up the increased load. The machine will be notified when the replacement part arrives and either call for another machine to perform the repair or call the service technician. The Internet of Things - the technology is already here.

At KTM Solutions, this is a new area where we hope to play. As we continue to build our machine automation business, we want to include the benefits of the Internet of Things. We welcome your thoughts and would love to have you join with us.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Is Good Engineering Talent Enough to Generate Success?

In November 2012, our company introduced a new blend of engineering that we labeled "Mobility Engineering", KTM Solutions demonstrated the power of blending engineering specialties across compatible yet unique industry segments. The power of blending automotive, aerospace, and machine automation experiences to drive creativity, innovation, and imagination ... this is the essence of Mobility Engineering. 
However, this idea is not enough to achieve success. When companies begin to develop a new product or offering, we have seen time and again a laser focus on finding best design engineering talent ... the best aerospace, automation, or automotive engineer. We also find that this does not guarantee success and develops a false sense of security that often bites hard. Sadly, we are called to help companies that spent a lot of time recruiting the right technical talent but missed the bigger picture. 
At KTM Solutions, we strive to add the missing vital component to every service offering. This additional part is so essential that we can virtually guarantee failure if it is over looked. In fact, this piece should be considered before doing anything else. What's the missing piece? Systems Engineering. 
Systems engineering usually goes hand in hand with good program management. However, this engineering discipline provides a strong focus on management and identification of technical/performance requirements and project risks. Good systems engineering will ensure that all requirements are identified, risk are quantified, compliance to requirements is measured, and actualization of the requirements is managed from start to finish of the program. Systems engineering will also assure that requirements changes are managed and coordinated. This process assures the development of technical a plan that all the other disciplines follow.
Want to learn more about cost effective, common sense ways to execute systems engineering on your next development project? Please contact us, we would be honored to help. Please remember as you begin your next project, "Failure to plan is a plan to fail."

When is the obvious not obvious?

I know what you're thinking. That last statement doesn't make sense. It's either obvious or it's not. But, honestly, I'll bet most people experience this almost daily. We often call it hindsight. Hindsight is always 20/20.

An example. KTM Solutions, working with an automotive supplier, we developed a solution that was so obvious to us, but a complete surprise to the client. The first statement from our client ... "Why didn't we think of that? The solutions is so obvious!"

True creativity isn't about complex solutions. Creative solutions are usually simple and extremely practical. Many of the best ideas are generated from life experiences. This is why KTM Solutions is consistently successful and continues to surprise our clients. With our breadth of experiences across multiple industries, we have a strong foundation. Those experiences help us to visualize, imagine, and build upon ideas to develop valuable solutions.

What could KTM Solutions do for you? 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Behind in the 4th Quarter

College football season! My favorite time of the year. I love the excitement and the passion of college football. Labor Day weekend marked the opening of the 2013 college football season. At the season start, everyone's record is the same and some have dreams of the perfect season. However, by the end of the weekend, half the teams lost that dream. And so begins the battle for dominance.

I usually follow two college teams. Louisiana Tech (my alma mater) and the University of Alabama (my son's school). This weekend, I traveled to Raleigh, NC to watch my Bulldogs get spanked by the NC State Wolf Pack. The Dawgs suffered a miserable loss by falling behind 14 -0 on NC State's first two drives. On the drive home, I listened to the Bama game on the radio. The Crimson Tide routed Virginia Tech. It all started when Bama returned the Hokies first punt for a touchdown. Both La Tech and Virginia Tech fell quickly behind and never recovered.

Our professional life is a lot like college football. We usually start our careers or a new job with a clean slate. Before the first "game", most professionals receive a lot of coaching and are well practiced. Some careers generate immediate success and participants stay ahead of the curve. Others immediately fall behind and have to fight and scrap to catch up. It's a lot more fun to be out in front. Like the game Labor Day weekend, NC State and Bama both made mistakes, but by being ahead they didn't fall.

Let's apply these lessons to engineering and project management:

  1. Projects all start out in the same place, with a clean slate.
  2. Cohesive well trained engineering teams will usually perform better that a group of stars that haven't worked together.
  3. When a team plays well together, stays focused on the goal, plays by the rules (no penalty), and executes the game plan; they will stay ahead.
  4. Projects that require catch up and go into overtime wear out the team and lead to mistakes.
  5. Projects that are behind require a strong bench to carry the load when the first string is tired or injured for the long game.
  6. When teams are behind in the 4th quarter, and the have struggled through the whole game, they usually don't have the bench strength to prevail. 
Don't find yourself behind in the fourth quarter. Get ahead early, stay ahead, and execute the game plan.  Reach to the bench when you need help.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Winning System

I love being a designer. I have loved creating things since I was a boy. When I was 10 years old, I designed my first gravity powered go-cart. Technically, the power plant works by changing the potential energy to kinetic energy by starting at the top of a tall hill. Some called these soap box racers. But my "machine" had nothing to do with a soap box. It was a completely open air vehicle. It was a sweet wooden framed structure  with center pivoted foot steering and super smooth, super fast wheels. It was the envy of all my friends and became the base line design for all others. Was it the steering? Maybe the wheels? Perhaps the simplicity? Ah, the questions of youth.

For a 10 year old, it was a great design. There were many great features. But, even with the best wheels, no one would have paid attention to it without good steering. Without a robust frame, the roadster would never have survived the abuse of a wild child. It was the entire system that made the difference. Solid frame, comfortable seat, accurate steering, and robust wheels made the "car". All needed to be considered in the design. It was the system that made it great.

If you want a winning design, you have to start with a winning system. It's the system design that makes the other parts relevant. A winning systems design starts with solid and well defined requirements.

Back to the "hot rod of my youth". Yes, it was a great design for a 10 year old. But, it was not a complete system. Now for the rest of the story.

The initial run was down the steepest hill in our neighborhood. Experience would later teach that one should always start small when beginning the functional test program. The machine was fast and steered perfectly. But, as I reached the bottom of this hill, it was time to "turn off the kinetic energy". But, I failed to design a braking system! This was corrected on the first revision. But, not without a significant personal cost ( lots of scrapes and bruises).

Winning systems. That's where winning designs begin.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Politics and Engineering

What up with that? Seems like a strange mix, engineering and politics. Indulge me for a few lines and I think you will see.

I've been intrigued by the lack of ability for the US congress to work together. Democrats and republicans, each blaming the other. Neither side seems to be able to appreciate the position or value of the other's ideas. Both are emphatic that their ideas and platform are best for the country. If we set aside the emotional, political, and pride issues, I think we would find that both parties have ideas that could yield a positive result. But, each party's positions are so end of the spectrum polar opposite, and each side is so bull headed it's hard to see how this can ever be resolved.

I have to admit that I am extremely frustrated with Washington DC. As a tax payer, this stalemate is expensive and unacceptable. Some have suggested that if we eliminated one of the parties, the deadlock would end and we could move forward. We have seen what happens when one party is in complete control. Honestly, this isn't the answer. We need the diversity, differing points of view in order to create legislation that makes sense for everyone. Through good leadership, all parties can and must work together. So, what does this have to do with engineering?

To develop the best engineering solutions, we need a balance of competing ideas, differing experiences, diversity of knowledge, background, and personality. So, why do many engineering companies hire people that are just like all the others? For example, why do aircraft companies avoid hiring automotive engineers? Why do company recruiters frequent that same universities for their college hires? Don't hiring managers usually look to hire people who are like them? Sadly, in my experience, I've seen all these behaviors all to often.

Although it can seem painful at times, we need sparks to fly and our ideas challenged to create something truly amazing. This means we need to foster an environment where this "sharpening" can happen. Through good leadership, engineering companies can create an experience diverse environment where sparks can fly and game changing solutions are possible.

Arguably, even though our government isn't perfect, it is the best design out there! It's because past leadership allowed conflict to drive excellence, working toward a common goal. Our engineering groups should be perform the same way. KTM Solutions offers a low risk way to experience this blend!

As always, comments are welcome.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

What's happened to American Engineering?

As a boy, I dreamed of being an engineer. Like my father before me, engineering was (and still is) my passion. Engineering was a profession that people respected. As a young man, people like me were proud to announce "I've decided to become an Engineer." It was worth the many hours of hard study and giving up the social life that many of my non-engineering student friends were able to enjoy. And, at graduation, I felt the pride of knowing I made it and was about to begin an incredible journey.  But I don't think people feel that way any more. What's happened to American Engineering?

Let me tell you about George, my father and my model for engineering. Before he retired, he was a chemical engineer. He worked virtually his entire career for the same company. He was salaried. He went to work early in the morning, came home late afternoon for dinner, spent some time with our family, then retired to his room to work a little longer. He did this because he loved what he did. He didn't get extra "direct" compensation for his effort. But, he was treated as a professional, with respect, and as a valued member of the community.

Although chemical engineering wasn't my interest, I knew that I wanted to be like Dad and have the same kind of career. After all, engineers had just put a man on the moon! Engineering was a respected profession.

We face a great crisis. Have you looked around lately? We are losing our technical edge. Young American kids don't want to be engineers. Most of the advanced engineering degree students are foreign. Even those that do choose the engineering path do not seem to view the profession that same way I did when I decided to make this my career. I hear, "Engineering is just another hourly skilled trade." The country that produced the engineers that put a man on the moon is losing it ... our technical edge and professionalism. You may find a few engineers like my father, men/women who do this because they love it, who think and act in this profession with the same level of professional responsibility and respect as a medical doctor.

So, what has happened to engineering? Do you concur with my thoughts? What can we do about it? Your comments are appreciated and welcome.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Creative Satisfaction

My wife tells me that I don't know how to rest. I suppose it's true. Many of my friends tell me the same thing. My idea of simple rest is creating a new bird house design or developing a modification for our home. When I'm really on the jazz, it's designing something new that will bring the world to tears with it's creativity, ingenuity and simplicity. To be honest, I haven't created that "tear jerking" design yet. But, I'm sure it's just around the corner! Maybe this weekend!

When I was young, I worked for a lead engineer that must have shared my passion for inventing the "better than sex" design. Jerry Liebst changed every design right up till drawing release. Once manufacturing had the design, then he began re-designing! He was never satisfied that the design was complete. The design could always be better, simpler, cheaper. At the time, that man drove me crazy. But, oh how much I learned from him.

If you are a real creative, you know what I'm talking about. YOU ARE NEVER SATISFIED WITH YOUR DESIGN. In the worst of circumstance, you can't rest because there's always something better just around the bend. "Just a few more hours and my design will be the bomb!" 

So, what are we to do? How can we find satisfaction in a creative world that is never finished? Although not a perfect recipe, hopefully these five ideas help:
  1. Recognize that this is a broken world, we were created to cultivate and develop it. Understand and embrace the fact that cultivation will never be complete. But, if we make it better than we found it, we can take satisfaction in this.
  2. Most inventions are simply improvements on others ideas. If we understand that the creative juices that flow from us can be the spring board for the next great idea, we can realize that even our "best intentions" and "incomplete works" contribute to the end game. 
  3. Find joy in teaching and developing others. Liebst was a pain in the ---! His continual changes drove me crazy. But, he taught me to find the simple solution, always look for improvements, and never stop trying. I believe that he found a lot of satisfaction when I learned this lesson. And, these lessons made me into a very good designer.
  4. Remember that creativity is a team sport. We all learn from one another and we better each other. Find ways to collaborate and make each other better. 
  5. Enjoy the journey and realize that creativity is not a destination ... it is the trip of a life time.
I welcome your thoughts!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

When industry pride and arrogance hinder ...

Occasionally, engineering specialist can be their own worst enemy. I know from first hand experience. We become arrogant in our engineering functional discipline and believe that our specialized field has the corner on cutting edge technology and product development. We discount "outsiders" and their experiences because their work is not as regulated, or not as technical, or too different than our own. For instance, aircraft companies hire only aircraft engineers. Any other engineering experiences are tacitly marginalized and not as valued. The rationalizations are limitless. 

A little over eight years ago, we began a grand experiment. We decided to mix engineering specialties in order to penetrate a large market segment. In reality, we learned each engineering discipline has valuable experiential knowledge that can benefit other industries. We found that knowledge shared across industries will spur game changing creativity for each industry. For example, we found a mix of aerospace experience with automation design developed a "leap frog" improvement for the rail industry. 

To achieve these benefits, we need to create a new environment. Each engineer need to lose their arrogance, respect other's knowledge, and seek to collectively learn from outside experiences. This will result in a blend that is better than the sum of the parts. Reese's developed a great new taste by blending peanut butter and chocolate. Similarly, we need to blend engineering ingredients. It's time to blend the best engineering knowledge from fields like aircraft, automotive, and automation to develop a more complete engineering experience we call "Mobility Engineering".

KTM Solutions has developed a blended engineering environment and it has proven effective for product and manufacturing development. This environment yields practical, innovative, and creative engineering solutions that would not have occurred with the traditional "engineering specialty silos". We are looking for others that want to join us in taking the best of these great experiences to develop a new way of thinking.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Vendor, Confidant, Consultant, or Partner

Bob Dylan wrote ...
"You may be a business man or some high degree thief
They may call you Doctor or they may call you Chief.

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You're gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody."

It's true. We will all serve somebody. Especially true if your business is a professional service!

Service is really about people (either the server or the served); relationships (genuine or perceived) impact the outcome. As Dylan wrote, "You may be a business man or some high degree thief. They may call you Doctor, or they may call you Chief." Each implies a level of trust and position. Certainly, none of us want to be thought the thief.  Although contracts may be between companies, all services are between people. As we begin new relationships, we must recognize that people have some damage from the past relationships that influence their perceptions. When one party has been burned before, they may assume the other something slightly above thief until proven otherwise. To move beyond this level, one must earn a level of trust. 

When beginning a new service for a new client, we must recognize our starting position. I'll wager that most service providers begin at the position of vendor. A vendor can be chosen with a very low level of commitment and trust. Vendors can easily be replaced. At this level, there is also a low tolerance for misunderstandings or mistakes. A misunderstanding could be confirmation that the server is not to be trusted. Our goal should be to serve with excellence, earn trust and develop the relationship. As trust develops, we can become a consultant and may be invited into a deeper relationship. Perhaps we reach the level of trusted partner. A partner is someone who has skin in the game, is known to be committed to the well being and protection of the other. When mistakes happen, the service is evaluated by the response and how the issues are handled rather than a perception of past sins .  High trust and relationships are built through exceptional service.

It's established. We are all going to serve somebody. If our goal is to provide the best experience, we should strive to be a partner. When we strive to be a partner, we must earn trust through exceptional service. To do this, we must always strive to protect our clients best interest. We should also be thankful for those who have been partners to us.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Welcome to my blog

Well, you've found me. But was the search worth it? I hope so, but only time will tell.

I am new to blogging and am not sure how this will go. I'm hoping that the information posted on this blog will stimulate thought, conversation, and genuine learning.

If you read about me, you know a little bit about my profession and personal life. But, I am more complex than what a few sentences can capture. I was born in New Jersey, raised in Southwest Louisiana, educated as an engineer, traveled the world for Boeing and Lockheed Martin, founded an engineering company, and settled in Greenville, South Carolina. So, wrapped into one you have an analytical, backwoods, city smart, cosmopolitan, entrepreneurial, friend of Jesus that considers the written use of English as a second language.  I hope to share learnings and add meaning by recording some of my life experiences. Kind of like Duck Dynasty meets The Apprentice.  Are you scared yet? Are you going to give up on me?

I hope you will visit this site often and join in my journey. Perhaps my comments will invoke something within. Maybe you will laugh, cry, get angry, or respond in violent agreement. I hope you will comment and add your insights. I hope we can all learn together and develop something meaningful.