My STEP Signature Project was an internship. This internship took place from May-December of 2018 at Parker Hannifin Tube Fittings Division where I was a design engineer. I produced many 3-D models and drawings, developed and tested products, and refurbished a hydraulic machine.
Throughout my project, I grew a lot both as an engineer and a young professional. Over the seven months, I was able to grasp what it was truly like to work as an engineer in an office and laboratory, definitely developing my view of what a job entails past my previous assumptions. I also got a taste of what it was like to develop a product in a professional environment. Different from a school atmosphere, you may have more freedom in coming up with the solution, but it takes longer to develop and there are a lot more hoops to jump though. Last, the employee relationships were also different than expected, and I was presently surprised by what an office atmosphere looks and feels like.
Going into the experience, I didn’t exactly know what it would be like to be assigned tasks as an engineer or an intern. I somewhat assumed I would be given a task and then I would sit down at my desk and complete it, ready to move on to the next one. However, I had heard that a lot of people gain the experience of working on multiple projects at their co-ops; so I was ready for that to happen also, although I didn’t exactly know what that would look like. My first experience came at the morning stand-up meeting held each day, where everyone went around and said what they would be working on for the day. That’s when I first got a taste of what everyone else was working on. As the days went by, I was able to hear what projects people were working on, the progress they had made, and how they spent their time working on different tasks. Another pivotal time was when I was assigned my first task, then shortly after, another person came up and asked me to start another project. As both were to be on my plate at the same time, I finally had to face the task of working on two projects at once. I had to learn how to split time and learned that not everything can be done right away. Sometimes you must wait for people to email you back, answer questions, or finish their duties before you can continue working on a project. Multiple speed bumps can occur.
Next, one of the projects I was assigned was to create a tool that would install a round ring with small three-dimensional features on it onto a surface. I was given a couple guidelines, but other than that, I could go about solving the problem any way that was necessary. Pleasantly surprised, having such few restrictions was a slight shock to me but a nice change from the typical guidelines and rules produced at school when it comes to coming up with a solution. After coming up with an idea, I was able to prototype it within days because it was prototyped in-house on a 3-D printer. Next came the longer process of improving it. I was able to give the original design some simple tests, edit it, and create new ones. After some time, a final product was developed. Next, the final product had to undergo extensive testing. Luckily, the necessary tests could be done in-house. After passing this functional testing, the product was then sent to the plants. The plants could then begin field testing the product. Ideally, a mass-volume production location would also have to be found to produce the product commercially. What seemed like a simple project took several months and is still in the process of being field tested. Because of the professionality, the process took longer than it would have as an academic project. The solution found was able to be simple and highly effective, saving production costs. If there were more guidelines, the cost-effective solution might not have been found.
Lastly, I learned a lot about the office environment. It wasn’t exactly what I expected, but I soon became familiar with the division’s atmosphere of the “Fortune 250” company. The first things that stood out to me were the relationships between coworkers. The mysterious question of whether the professional engineering world, at least at this company, was really uptight or more relaxed and free-flowing was answered. It was a healthy mix, but definitely a good environment for co-ops. The show “The Office” sure started to become funnier and more relatable. The other thing that I found intriguing was the role of the engineering manager and how different engineers had different roles, despite having the same major. As my cubicle was placed in front of the engineering manager’s office, I was able to learn a lot about what she does. She was also very helpful and offered many learning experiences, such as sitting in on phone interviews, to the other co-op and myself. I also learned a lot about the roles and differences between design engineers, application engineers, test engineers, material scientists, and regional product sales (engineers by degree). It was impressive how all their roles fit together to get the job done.
In all, the STEP project will help me very much in my professional life. Work experience is crucial to landing a job after college and it has really helped develop me as an engineer. The projects I worked on and others I got to discuss with coworkers intrigued me and always got my wheels turning. As I move toward graduation, I know that the daily work and problems of an engineer are ones I want to tackle for a profession. I also found I really enjoyed using 3D-modeling and seeing what I was working on compared to the businessmen, I.T., and sales. Getting to learn the roles of application engineers and the engineering manager also opened my mind to new interests and career paths that I can pursue as I advance in my career.