Title: Industrial Engineer
Company: Alan Wire
- Chris loves antique cars and is currently restoring a 1938 Chevy Coup.
- He grew up farming with his family on a couple hundred acres where they raised beef cattle.
- Chris says that as a farmer, he’s “always praying for rain or praying for sunshine.”
Is there a time you can point to and say, “That’s when I knew I wanted to become an engineer?”
It was more of a natural progression. I grew up on a farm in a small town, so growing up I was around mechanical systems and I was always working on stuff with my grandparents and dad. As a farmer, you’re your own one-stop shop: the guy that operates it and the guy that fixes it; you do everything. You can’t always run to the store to get what you need, you might have to come up with solutions on your own. Going back as far back as childhood, I really enjoyed what I was doing. As I grew up, I got more into cars and tractors and building things from nothing. For instance, some friends and I built a hovercraft back in high school.
It was that drive to always create something or fix a problem that led me to the engineering field.
Are you doing what you thought you’d be doing when you were growing up?
I didn’t think I was going to be making wiring cable! But, growing up when I’d see a shiny new car or tractor, I’d always dream of working for Lamborghini or someone similar. I think as you grow up, you change your mind-set and your priorities shift. For instance, you want to stay close to family or you dream of moving to a big city. As opportunities come about, they change who you are or where you thought you’d be working.
I started in automotive working for Toyota for about two years. I thought I’d love the auto industry and then my perspective changed. Now, I honestly love wire and cable – it’s something different everyday.
You mentioned each day is different with wire and cable. Is there something else that you really enjoy about your job?
Being an industrial engineer, part of my process here is talking to our customers and listening to what they want made, even if it’s never been made before. I can take a list of demands they want fulfilled and I can design a specific type of cable, make the tooling for it, make the machine adjustments for it and eventually, present the customer with a finished product. Which brings me to what my favorite part of this whole process is: getting to meet with people one-on-one and then bringing them the finished product that they think is the greatest thing ever and getting to see first hand what this product means to them.
It’s going through the process, but more importantly to me, having the interaction with the customers. Putting a smile on someone else’s face and knowing their company is going to grow and become better based on what you did, that’s a very fulfilling part of the job for me.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
The most challenging part of my job is keeping up with technology. In our industry, there are very few machine builders and not a lot of support for the actual equipment we use in our production line that is made in the USA. On a weekly basis, I’m first of all, trying to run the components and parts we have already, but also as our company is growing, trying to keep myself updated with the latest computer programs. The last 10 years of the wire industry have experienced the same advances as going from the first Apple computer to the iPad. It’s mind-blowing from how things used to be done and how we’re doing things now. You have to relearn your job every couple of months because you have to stay current with an update you didn’t see coming.
Where do you go to learn new things?
There is a lot of co-worker discussion. There is a lot of meet-and-greet since we’re a family-owned company. I really enjoy this part: if there is something really mind-boggling, and you just really want to meet someone and shake his hand to discuss it, the company is very supportive.
I go all over the nation to meet with machine builders or customers to get a better idea of what people need or what they have to offer to learn or train at their facility. Every year, I try to pick up a new skill. I’ve been to Georgia Tech for Six Sigma training. This year I’m working on getting more background knowledge on the machine side. Any opportunity there is to learn, I try to take it.
What is the most exciting project you’ve had the opportunity to work on during your career?
It’s really basic, and it’s what I do every day, but just getting the opportunity to sit down with the customers, and then designing and implementing what they need. I’m trying not to sound like a wire nerd, but in aerospace for instance, obviously you have a plane, which is pretty amazing. But most people don’t realize what little things are in the walls, powering your building when you walk into work in the morning. For me, knowing I’m the behind-the-scenes guy brings a sense of accomplishment.
Who is someone you look up to or are inspired by?
There isn’t just one person I look up to. Where I work, there is a close-knit engineering group; there are only four of us. I look up to my co-workers a lot because I learn so much from them and I’m always able to ask questions of them. As far as inspiration, it goes back to family. When you grow up with a small family farming, you see your extended family every day. It’s inspiring because it’s a group effort and there is the opportunity to see the rewards of your work every day.
Fill in the blank. If I couldn’t be an engineer, I would be a “______________.”
Watching Tom Cruise in Top Gun makes you want to be a fighter pilot when you’re a kid! I like to travel. I really enjoy seeing other places and meeting people from other countries. Some of the stories and cultural differences are really interesting.
When you meet someone that has been all over the world, there is always something to learn. It gives you a different perspective on life.
If you could call yourself 5 years ago and had 30 seconds, what would you say?
If I could call myself five years ago when I was just getting out of college, I was probably scared to death thinking about what was ahead of me. I probably would have just said, “Hey, keep your chin up and keep on keeping on.” No regrets.
What does being successful mean to you?
Being an engineer isn’t like being a doctor or a celebrity, where you’re in the limelight. People don’t think about the guy that built the iPad, they just like it for it’s functionality. Putting a smile on someone’s face and knowing someone has a better quality of life because of something I did, that’s success.