From ensuring AMERICAN’s products are the highest quality, to creating solutions to meet our customers’ needs, to researching ways to increase efficiency and develop new products, to collaborating on capital projects, engineers play an important role in the company’s success. In celebration of Engineers Week, February 19-25, 2023, we are featuring five of our engineers, sharing what inspires them on the job and their advice for how engineering students can develop the skills needed to create the future.
Manufacturing Engineer Kevin Black is a handyman at heart. As a child, Black spent time tinkering, destroying and rebuilding his toys to understand how they worked. This childhood curiosity followed him into school, where he first became fascinated with computers and their electrical components. “I’ve always been a tinkerer,” Black said. “Those possessing the engineering spirit share the desire to figure out how things work, so they can enhance something’s function. I’ve learned what we perceive as failures are opportunities for improvement.”
Seeing his father complete his Master of Science in Electrical Engineering inspired Black to pursue a career in electrical engineering. Black graduated from the University of Alabama in 2001 with his bachelor’s degree in electrical and computer engineering and joined AMERICAN initially as a design engineer.
After gaining years of experience in examining the impact of collecting data throughout the production process, Black began working with a team of engineers of different specialties and system analysts in 2006 to create a new system to analyze production results. This team grew until 2013 and became the Manufacturing Systems Department. As a manufacturing engineer, Black collaborates with design engineers to advance capital projects and with other manufacturing engineers to enhance already installed applications. “Maintaining this system requires us to constantly update software and our servers to create more effective graphical operator interfaces,” he explained.
Black advises future engineers to join an organization that enables them to explore the industry. “Find a student organization that takes field trips,” he said. “Many companies, including ACIPCO, support engineering students by allowing them to tour their facilities. For new engineers, this is a great opportunity to see work that is being done and envision their own futures.”
To ensure AMERICAN produces the highest quality products in ways that comply with ISO 9001 and API requirements, the company trusts professionals like Manufacturing Engineer Rikki Brown to help maintain the Quality Management System.
Brown routinely conducts risk assessments, performs root cause analysis, and establishes corrective and preventive actions to improve employee safety and ensure customer satisfaction. “Before I started working at AMERICAN in 2021, I didn’t realize the full extent quality standards affected the business as a whole, not just production.” Brown said. “It’s been very eye-opening.”
Brown’s love of math and science propelled her to choose a career in engineering and earn her bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of South Florida. She said she appreciates the professional development opportunities the company provides, but her favorite part of her job is the people she works with every day.
For women interested in engineering careers, Brown’s advice is to not be afraid to use your voice and share your opinions. “There is a place for more females in the industry,” she continued. “As a woman, the perspective and ideas you bring are just as valuable.”
Since 1905, customers have trusted AMERICAN to employ the most skilled professionals in the pipe-producing industry to deliver the solutions they need, the right way. Developing skills takes time and requires patience, and Sales Engineer Kyle Couture understands that each day presents opportunities to build and maintain relationships with customers, work together to solve problems and innovate the sales process. “You don’t learn it all in five years, 10 years or even 15 years,” Couture said. “I have worked in this field for 26 years, and I’m using every bit of knowledge I’ve gained.”
Couture, a licensed engineer in the states of Florida and Mississippi, has been with AMERICAN since 1996 after graduating from Auburn University with his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. As a sales engineer with AMERICAN SpiralWeld Pipe, Couture enjoys the strategy involved in creating plans for projects in the competitive sales environment. “It takes a good business acumen and strategy,” he said. “These projects have long life cycles – sometimes five to 10 years. The earlier you get involved in the project planning process, the better.”
This focus on involving manufacturers and contractors from the beginning of the project planning process is even more critical now with the popularity of Design-Build and is a topic Couture has studied and even presented on last year at the Utility Engineering and Surveying Institute (UESI)’s 2022 Pipelines Conference. “Collaborative project delivery saves time and money for engineers, manufacturers and customers, and allows projects to be completed more efficiently,” Couture explained. “We’ve adapted to changes in the industry moving more toward collaborative delivery and will continue to evolve with it.”
To those interested in pursuing a career in engineering, Couture said active listening is crucial in getting a job done the right way. “To be a more efficient engineer, you have to listen intently and learn to ask the right questions.”
As Director of Product Development for AMERICAN Flow Control in Crawfordsville, Indiana, Jeff Henkle oversees the AFC Center for Innovative Excellence. There he leads a team who creates products that will not only stand the test of time, but also set new industry standards. “Our customers expect our products to withstand decades of use and deliver water that is critical for life and safety,” Henkle said. “I love that the company trusts us to innovate. We are constantly searching for new products or ways to design features into our products that will bring value to our customers.”
Henkle graduated from Purdue University with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering. After gaining more than 20 years of experience in engineering positions at Raytheon and Rolls-Royce, Henkle joined AFC in 2019. This career shift enabled him to apply the lessons learned from his previous experience in the aerospace industry into improving water infrastructure technology.
Henkle said students often hear about careers in health care, teaching and retail, but most people are unaware of what a career in engineering can offer. “Engineering is a creative and broad field, offering a variety of work environments, industry-specific projects and unique opportunities to fit your personality,” he explained. Henkle advises students to look for online resources that show the creative process of identifying a problem and following various steps, sometimes unorthodox ones, to solve it.
According to Henkle, communication skills are important for a career in engineering. He encourages engineers to continue developing their written and verbal communication skills, since they must be able to discuss research advancements with a variety of audiences. “Even if you are brilliant, it won’t help your company if you can’t explain your team’s results,” he said.
Design Engineer Cary McLaughlin is a first-generation college graduate, earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees and currently working on his doctorate in mechanical engineering from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Since joining AMERICAN in 2000, McLaughlin has strived for academic and workplace excellence, allowing him to build a strong foundation to support his family, inspire coworkers and encourage future engineers to reach their full potential.
McLaughlin began his ACIPCO career as a probationer in Ductile Iron Pipe. He then worked in Steel Pipe, ADIP Project Management and Research. While in Research, he rediscovered his love for learning and began his college career. He completed his bachelor’s degree in six years while working as a research drafter and then a design engineer. “If you want to better yourself by going back to school and getting your degree, you can do it,” McLaughlin said. “I spent the first four to five years thinking this class might be the one that’s too hard for me, but it wasn’t.”
He also praised the company’s tuition reimbursement program for providing him with financial assistance to achieve his college dreams. “For a first-generation college student like me, ACIPCO offers tuition reimbursement to students who have a passion for learning and a drive to succeed,” he said.
McLaughlin is a licensed professional engineer in the state of Alabama. In his current role in Engineering, he combines his project management skills with problem-solving techniques to implement capital projects from start to finish, communicating with everyone involved in enhancing the company’s manufacturing processes. “Because I worked in manufacturing for several years, it’s not a disjointed process for me,” he said. “I know the work people do, and I value their input and feedback.”
For those interested in pursuing an engineering degree, McLaughlin’s advice is to work part-time and look for internships. “The experience is almost as valuable as engineering school. It’s like adding another tool to your toolbox.”