I began working professionally as a mechanical engineer in 2002, when I graduated with my Mechanical Engineering degree (MS ’09). However, the conviction to pursue engineering started much earlier than college. Early in high school I realized I wanted to be an engineer. Fortunately, 25 years later I have never questioned that decision.
My career has journeyed through defense, aerospace, and the consumer product industries. Along the way each employer, colleague, professor, and project has taught me a wide range of skills that I bring with me. I believe that I’ve also passed on some of what I’ve learned to them as well.
While very detail oriented I also have a big picture engineering systems point of view. As the saying goes, “garbage in, garbage out.” A broken product development process can’t sustain successful, innovative, and well engineered products in the long term. I endeavor to improve best practices and sound processes independent of the maturity level of the organization.
Spanning +20 years, I’ve used most of the mainstream packages out there: Solidworks, NX, CATIA, Pro/E, etc. In aerospace the main challenge is large assemblies, many of which require kinematic control. Complex class A surface modeling in consumer products has been my most recent challenge, often in collaboration with an Industrial Designer. Regardless if the product is one part or thousands, building robust, flexible, and intuitive models is my goal.
Pretty CAD models are great, but will they work? My FEA experience helps inform the design process whether the next step is prototype 1 or mass production. Simple linear static analysis is typically the first level. After that, increasing complexity and realism with contact and nonlinear material properties. Subsequently fatigue analysis is necessary to be sure the component works for repeated loading.
Tolerance stack analyses are the quintessential detail design phase responsibility of the design engineer. Verifying that complex features of a single part, or many features of many parts all work together is the definition of attention to detail. Hundredths of millimeters, or less, can matter. Tolerance analyses are deeply integral to feature control through GD&T.
Drafting and GD&T
Again, pretty CAD models are great, but how do you manufacture it and comprehend, control, and accept the inevitable physical deviations from CAD?
Design for manufacture, quality, inspection, and design intent all come together in the component’s controlling document. That could be a traditional drawing or via Model Based Definition (3D), both are mediums I have experience with. The most explicit and complete way to do this is per geometric dimensioning and tolerancing as defined in ASME Y14.5, which is necessary for tolerance analysis.
You’ve got a prototype in-hand—now what? A methodical approach to testing that precious prototype will yield the maximum information to be incorporated into the design.
While never explicitly a “test engineer,” I have advised and worked closely with Test Engineers while in aerospace and consumer products. Most recently I needed to be my own test engineer, devising test plans, test methods, designing fixtures, and performing static and fatigue tests myself. The feedback loop for a design engineer isn’t complete until tests have been performed.
All the previous activities and skills might yield a successful product. However, without a robust document control mindset and process, the information generated during the design phase won’t be sustainable for the lifecycle of the product. Document control closes the design process loop.
In both small and large organizations I have driven improvement in Doc. Control or created systems from scratch. Regulatory requirements often prompt the need, as in aerospace and personal protective equipment. How the organization executes that requirement can have a significant effect on its adoption and usefulness for the future. Doc. Control is often an overlooked portion of the design process. This is understandable, how sexy is PDM/PLM compared to shiny CAD models?
Lean Product Development
How does the product development team create information as quickly and efficiently as possible? How aggressive a prototype(s) concept should the team design and test to gain valuable knowledge of the concept? Should the team spend four weeks implementing and testing a new feature request? How much money should we spend trying to fix a problem in the design? When is an expedite fee from a manufacturer worth it?
These questions are ones that Lean Product Development can help inform. The days of one or two old-timers using intuition or a WAG are over—or at least they should be. The concepts of Lean Manufacturing are well accepted as the best way to approach creating physical parts. Lean Product Development (LPD) however is less widely known, but just as powerful an approach to apply to the design process. Any modern successful manufacturer implements some level of Lean Manufacturing, similarly design and development departments need to implement Lean Product Development. This topic complements my interest and experience in improving an organization’s process of designing and supporting product throughout its lifecycle.
One concept which I have kept closely in mind throughout my career is one from my senior project advisor, Robert Norton, PE. The quote below is at the beginning of one of his books, one which is in my top 5 reference materials. While this is only an excerpt of the section, The Design Process, I believe it is a good summary of my approach to engineering.
It ultimately does no good to have creative, original ideas if you do not, or cannot, carry out the execution of those ideas and “reduce them to practice.” To do this you must discipline yourself to suffer the nitty-gritty, nettlesome, tiresome details which are so necessary to the completion of any one phase of the creative design process.R. L. Norton, Design of Machinery, 2nd Ed.
Pete Wilk Engineering, LLC
While the bulk of my career has been direct employment I created a contracting and consulting company in 2016. Through my company I’ve had the opportunity to work on a variety of projects which offered more variety than just aerospace and consumer products. I will not claim expertise in electronics or medical implants, however I have worked on products in these areas and can bring the maturity of my engineering skills to these fields as well as others.
Please use the contact form to reach out to discuss how I might be able to solve your engineering need.
If you’re just interested in seeing pretty pictures click here to go right to those.
One of my proudest professional achievements is to have worked on the CH-53K helicopter while at Sikorsky Aircraft. I (as part of a team) designed and analyzed the control system for the rotor head, seen in this image as the stuff between the hub & blades and the fuselage.
Notable mentors, friends, and co-workers hammered in my knowledge of CAD, structural analysis, FEA, and many other skills to produce the largest capacity helicopter used by the US military.
Images ©Lockheed Martin
Consumer products are a very different animal than aerospace. Smooth curves, complex surfacing, cost, lead time, market need, are some things that I learned working for Black Diamond Equipment.
My role at BD was the ice category designer. Much of my time was spent redesigning and improving the crampon and ice tool product line.
One of the standout projects is the Snaggletooth crampon, a horizontal monopoint crampon. This product is one of the most versatile crampons available. Nearly every part of this product was new and I was solely responsible for the CAD and analysis for the product.
Concurrent to the Snaggletooth was also redesigning the Serac and Sabertooth crampons to improve their fatigue life. While this was not particularly difficult by bringing in my fatigue skills from Sikorsky. The real accomplishment was to work closely with the manufacturing engineer to produce a design and tool set that met the design intent first try—almost unheard of at the time for the company.
I also worked on the Ultralight Ice Screw, developing the screw body/tip and performing structural analysis on the hanger. This screw is one of the most popular screws on the market.
Images ©Black Diamond Equipment
I furthered my experience in consumer products at Blue Ice as the Principal Engineer. While responsible for much of the engineering infrastructure, work processes, and methods (aka stuff that isn’t sexy). I did have the added task of designing an ice axe line and accessories. I did have two young engineers under me to help, but we had the added hurdle of doing it all from the ground up.
Complex surfacing can be quite deceiving when eventually produced, it can look obvious, simple, and elegant. However the work to get there can be complex. The Bluebird Ice Axe is one of my favorite products that I have worked on. I’m also looking forward to revealing a few other products once they are released.
Images ©Blue Ice
My contracting work has run quite wide, consumer products, medical device and implants, to the agriculture industry (hops harvesting). Here are a few.