What Are the Personal Qualities Necessary to Succeed in CAD or Robotics?

What personal qualities are necessary to succeed in CAD/CAM and robotics? What do people with jobs in these fields believe are the advantages and disadvantages of working with this technology? Here's what several of them say about requirements.

Ability to Be Trained

"In order to work successfully in today's world of automation, people will have to come to us much more trainable than at any point in history," says Jack Loven, who heads General Motors public relations staff at GM's Technical Center in Warren, Michigan.

"That doesn't mean people have to be trained already. It does mean they need the basics-reading, writing, arithmetic. They need the ability to read well and to understand and use what they've read. It's nice if they've been taught on computers, but it's not necessary."

More significant than computer knowledge, Loven says, is group dynamics, which he defines as the ability to work well in a group. "In the past, American industry was a sequential operation," he explains. "People designed products. Then they were manufactured. Designers did their thing, apart from the engineers and workers who actually produced the products."

"Today's electronic technology brings people together much earlier in the business, at the beginning of the design project. Different disciplines-designers, mechanical and electrical engineers, computer hardware and software experts-all work together from the start. Each must recognize the talents and abilities of the other, and be able to recognize others' contributions. A designer may draw a widget, but the production engineer on the team may say, "We can't build that widget efficiently with high-quality production. Why spin your wheels designing it?" Working together, the team must find answers that are practical in today's factory."

"Self-Starter" Learning

No matter what you've learned in formal courses or training, CAD/CAM work today requires plenty of self-study, say those doing it. Automation engineer Bill Hedenstrom, 26, who graduated with a degree in engineering technology, studied PL/1, a computer language, at Southern Illinois University. "The rest of my languages," he says, "I learned on my own. Most of them, I learned to do a specific task for a client, or to find out if they would be better than Pascal." Hedenstrom can now program in BASIC, Fortran, Pascal, COBOL, Forth, Machine Language 6502, Machine Language 68000, Machine Language Z80, APT, SNAP, C, & Modulla 2.

Group engineer Steven Selig, who supervises 12 CAD personnel at Martin Marietta's Orlando facility, began his work career before his high school graduation, folding blueprints in the company's reproduction department. Although 44-year-old Selig "took a couple of drafting courses at vocational technical school in the late Sixties," he says CAD was just beginning when he got into the field, and "I just developed as I went along." Summers says he rebuilt his own Apple II for home use, regularly reads seven trade magazines and four or five others occasionally, and now is fluent in various programming languages: several different Assemblers, BASIC, Fortran, Pascal, Algol, and about five languages peculiar to CAD systems.

Decision-Making Ability

"You have to have the guts and ability to make a decision that affects many people downstream," says Bill Hedenstrom, 26-year-old automation engineer at APV Crepaco, a 96-year-old food equipment and refrigeration company that makes tanks and pumps. 'Here, this job is yours,' said my boss, handing me a folder with job specs. I had to design and install an automatic system to batch Coca Cola at two Kentucky bottling plants.

"You have to be able to say, 'Yes, this is good, Yes, this will work,' knowing what you decide will affect the quality of the customer's product later on. You can't be afraid of the responsibility.

"You trade off cost and quality. You know you have the ability to get desired results easily and cheaply through one way. Sure, you could do it a little bit fancier and nicer, but it would take a lot more time and money. So, in essence, you are the expert who makes the decisions for the customer. You decide for the customer, 'This is the way it's going to be.'"

Security Clearance OK

Major companies that use CAD/CAM technology almost certainly are involved with government contracts. Aerospace manufacturers especially do a great deal of defense work. Consequently, they require security clearance for most, if not all, of their employees.

Recruiting expert Joe Blumberg, of Beall International, a human resource consulting organization, says that means a background free from major character flaws. "A felony would be a problem," he says. "Also, you need United States citizenship for defense work." When placing candidates, Blumberg's organization also runs a credit check, looking for sound financial status.

Do What the Job Requires

Especially in manufacturing, work requirements don't always come in neat 9 to 5 packages. "On the first supervisory job I had," says 33-year-old Pat Nichols, describing a Florida-based CAD operation, "I worked a lot of 60 to 70-hour weeks. You do what it takes to accomplish the job."

Later, as a systems manager, Nichols "did my time, working second shift." Many times, she points out, you must load or test software in off-production hours, even if that means the middle of the night or weekends. There are tasks which have to be done when no one else is using the system.

Computer numerical control (CNC) applications engineer Debra Lile, 27 installs Automation Intelligence systems in the field, checks them out, and trains customers in how to use them...all as just part of her job. At her Orlando-based company, Quiles supposedly works a 40-hour-week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., but often leaves the office at 6. "Sometimes I get in at 8:30 a.m." she explains. "I don't punch a clock. It's sort of a flex type arrangement, where, if you put in your 40-hour-week, the job ought to be done. But if it takes you 45 or 50 hours a week to finish, then you do it."

Installing software, as she has done in Sweden and in Japan, Quiles usually works a minimum 12-hour day. "It's not a requirement," she says. "But when I'm in a start-up phase, I want to know what's ahead. If I'm running into problems, I'd like to anticipate them. On the factory floor, I don't want to walk in the door at 8 and leave at 5 when I still could be pushing on."

At Martin Marietta, Steve Selig comes in 40 minutes early to have coffee and get a head start on problems that cropped up the night before, or on second shift. "If I've got something pressing," he says, "I'll skip lunch. Most days I go home at 4:30, but some days, I don't get home till 8 p.m. I don't like to work scheduled overtime, but I don't mind working on things if I have to."


"You're always solving puzzles," says Todd Hedenstrom. "You've got a certain set of tools to work with-usually the CAD system and software-and a problem to be solved. How can you use these tools in the best way to get the job done? Sometimes it seems as if you will never be able to do it, and you've got to have the patience to sit and sit and sit and finally figure out something clever to do."

Steve Summers says it bluntly. "I'm basically a puzzle-solver. Every day is a new day."

Disregarding Age Barriers

Many engineers in industry received their formal training before the push to automation. Consequently, installers from vendor companies who visit manufacturing plants often find themselves, working with those much older, and need the ability to get along, despite implied criticism.

Sometimes age differences can cause problems. "I don't like it when someone says, 'You're only in your twenties. How can you possibly know anything if you haven't done it yourself in industry?'" complains Todd Hedenstrom. "Eventually, they either put up with me, since they really have no choice, or look at me as somewhat of a whiz kid.

"Even my own California branch manager, meeting me for the first time, blurted out, 'My God, are you old enough to drive?' "

Hedenstrom's solution: appear confident, and get the job done. "Don't hem and haw, and say you don't know," he advises.

Twenty-seven-year-old Debra Quiles agrees. "Sometimes factory men are surprised to see me," she says. "When I go in, I'm often bossing them around, telling them they have to do this and that, explaining how the machines and software operate. Maybe for the first half of the first day, they may be a little leery about taking orders from a young woman, but after that, it's ok because I know what I'm doing." She laughs. "And they know I know what I'm doing."

On-The-Job Growth

CAD/CAM recruiters look for increasing responsibilities of job levels on job assignments. "More complex hardware and software," says recruiter Joe Blumberg. "More complex designs and projects, in-depth familiarity with one CAD system and some knowledge of others. In this business, you've got to keep growing to get ahead."
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