What I Want to be When I Grow Up

Remember when you were a kid and people asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up? A Firefighter, a Policeman, a Cowboy and an Astronaut is what I typically answered with and not always in that order. Today I’m a Mechanical Designer. Never in a million years would I have answered that when I was five years old. I didn’t even know what designing was. But one thing I did know was I liked to build things, all sorts of things…and that’s where it all began.

Just messing around during lunch. I found a model of this wheel and rotor online, added the 2, 1, and 4 using Pro/ENGINEER, and rendered in Keyshot

The other day I was thinking back to when I was young. What put me on the path I am today? Now I grew up in the 70’s so bell bottoms, Hot Wheels cars, Big Wheels, singlespeed bikes with sissy bars and banana seats, Looney Toons, Star Wars and Lego’s pretty much dominated much of my youth. Christmas was my favorite holiday and I was sure to get something awesome from Old St. Nick. Over the years I had gotten lots of different toys but none had the allure or the staying power of Legos. I would spend hours building, playing, rebuilding and improving, playing, etc., you get the picture. I’m an Introvert. Not ashamed of it, just the way I am built, er…designed. I was shy but made friends. I spent time playing with others but also spent time alone. I needed time alone, needed that time to recharge. In that time of solitude I would draw or build stuff. Sometimes I would draw ships or cars and then try and recreate those using whatever I had whether it was Legos, Lincoln Logs, Erector sets or anything else I could get my hands on. It’s kind of funny but looking back at it now that’s kind of what I do for a living now.

Here’s a picture of the bike I rode as a kid, I was the fastest on the block with this bad boy.

As I said before I’m a Mechanical Designer and I work for a fuel cell company. I use 3D modeling software to design and build fuel cells for use in electric pallet trucks, fork trucks and automatic guided vehicle (AGV’s) for use in the material handling industry. I pretty much design the whole system from the ground up. Just recently I started some conceptual work on a Hydrogen Dispenser and I thought I’d take you thought the design process.

Sketch of a concept

I start with some requirements like size (height, width and length), how it needs to perform, what it needs to look like, etc. From that I’ll create some sketches and throw some ideas around with the group I am working with.

Here’s the 3D model I used during a design review. This software allows you to spin and rotate the model in real time.

Next I’ll take those sketches and build a rough 3D model and start digging into the details. Sometimes I’ll do more than one. The models I build in the computer are parametric so I can change dimensions and the models will update appropriately. I’ll roughly place components and run fuel lines or electrical harnesses. Once again I’ll share these with the group, take their comments, and make any necessary changes. Sometimes I’ll even render some images just to give others a better feel for how it might look in real life…and because I can.


Once we down-select to a specific design, I’ll go through and build the product structure or how the parts will interact with each other. I then finalize component placement, design the sheet metal enclosure and any component supports, create a full drawing package, and release the product to be sourced and built. With new products I get to work with the manufacturing group to build the first few which is really cool. Any problems encountered or improvements made go right back into the next round of revisions.

Now this might not sound like your cup of tea but to someone as detail oriented as me, I am in heaven. This is what I started doing as a child and somehow ended up as my career. If you asked me today what I’d like to be doing when I grow up, I’d say designing mountain bikes. The design process is very similar, for the most part, regardless of the product. Unfortunately there are not many jobs designing bikes in the Capital Region but I have to say as far as jobs go, mine is still pretty cool. So how did I get here? I am still not 100% sure but I am glad I did.

Below is a video from Santa Cruz Bicycles. I had the opportunity to meet Joe Graney at a PTC conference in Florida, really cool guy. What I do is very much like what Nick Anderson does…just not as much fun.

104 Bronson: Design, Engineering & Product Development from santa cruz bikes on Vimeo.

P.S. If someone out there is looking for a help designing bikes or bike components, I’m your man! Drop me a line…especially if it’s in a warmer climate.

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