I had my first turbocharged car as a teenager in the late 80’s and began to tinker with it shortly after buying it. The desire to learn more about engines and related fields led me to the University of Tennessee in the early 1990’s to study mechanical engineering. While there, I continued to modify my turbocharged car and worked at an auto repair facility. During my junior year, I became involved with the local chapter of SAE and signed up to work on the SAE hybrid electric vehicle program. In my senior year, I became the project leader for this vehicle and I'm proud to say that we won the national competition (in 1995).
My first job out of college was at Hypertech, Inc. Hypertech manufactures tuning devices for modern cars and trucks. My responsibility there was calibration development. That is, I took the ECU reverse-engineering data harvested by the other engineers and turn it into marketable tuning improvements for targeted vehicles. Tested in the dyno cells and confirmed at the drag strip, I'd change one byte at a time (working in hexadecimal) until we found a winning combination. I got this job because of my experience in the SAE student project, and the connections I had formed during that time.
Working for an engine OE seemed like a good next step, so in 1997 we selected John Deere in Waterloo, IA. I say “we” because my wife (also UTK graduate and SAE vehicle project participant) also worked there; having an engineering degree and an engine controls background. With a track record in calibration work, that’s where I started in the company. I worked on cold start development. After the engines were starting nicely, I moved on to other assignments such as valvetrain simulation/analysis, camshaft development and testing, cylinder head port development, and ultimately turbocharger component responsibility. During my dealings with turbos and specifically BorgWarner, it became clear that they would be great fit for what I wanted to do and where we wanted to live.
An interesting sideline during this time period was the purchase of a chassis dyno and the operation of our own home-based business. We made very little money but it was an important learning experience, somewhat on the technical side but more so in the area of running a small business. My wife and I also wrote articles for Hot Rod magazine about OBD-II (which was new at the time) during the period, which was also an interesting distraction.
Getting back to the South in 2001 was a climate relief, as four Iowan winters were all that we could endure. BorgWarner (the USA turbo plant being located in Asheville, NC) is tough to beat in terms of environment and culture. I was hired as an application engineer and later grew into the role of manager for that group and ultimately the Director of Application Engineering globally for all our sites producing heavy-duty (commercial usage) turbos.
On the hobby side of things, I picked up CNC machining and prototyping which turned to be equally contagious as my car projects. I now have a milling center, a turning center, and a 3D printer for rapid prototyping. People who come to visit ask what I make with all this equipment and my answer is “usually not much”. We also still have the chassis dyno so it does look a little strange to have all this equipment in operation just in the name of life-long learning and having some fun along the way. Some people go fishing; I spend time in the workshop. My current bottomless-pits are a twin-turbo Porsche 911 and a twin-turbo Mercedes coupe.
Back to BorgWarner, in late 2009 I proposed a project called AAP (Advanced Aftermarket Products) and it was approved. This was a technology implementation and a supplier development project. The target market, as the name implies, was the aftermarket. This was particularly relevant during the economic recession since project kick-offs among OE's was not exactly a hot topic. The made-for-sale embodiment of AAP was called EFR which stands for "Engineered For Racing". Marketed towards the performance-aftermarket segment, the mission was to treat this market to something great while in parallel preparing these technologies for OE implementation. I was the chief engineer of the project as well as the team leader, leading a cross-functional team toward the rapid design, development, and release of this new line of turbochargers.
EFR series is feature-rich, including ball bearings and low-inertia titanium aluminide turbine wheels. There are many other design features also; more than what can be listed here. I wrote a training manual last year and also filmed a publicity video that we used at the industry trade shows. One of the great things about developing a track record on these technologies via the aftermarket is the ability to tap into a spectrum of field test situations. Some of the best test conditions come from the professional racers since many of these situations are truly abusive. The supply base also liked the project because it allowed them to practice new techniques and demonstrate industrialization without the pressure of doing it in conjunction with a higher-volume OE launch. We solved a lot of problems along the way, many of which never would have been found in the laboratory.
As fringe benefits, some professional motorsport branches of our customers became interested in the EFR turbos and wanted to test them and in some cases go racing with them. This has furthered the brand and strengthened relationships. EFR turbos have been selected by IndyCar to be part of their 2012+ specification which means that all three engine manufacturers will use these turbos for their race programs. Talk about a great PR opportunity for BorgWarner and our turbocharger technologies!
For me, personally, it has been the highlight of my career since it brought together design leadership, cost management, team leadership, supplier interaction, supplier negotiation, testing, time management and customer interfacing.
So, the "story arc" of my career both inside and outside of formal employment has been related to turbochargers, turbocharged engines, and design/fabrication of solutions in that field. All engineering students I come into contact with hear the same story: that the SAE vehicle competition project was a very important stepping stone along that path and opened doors that would not have otherwise been likely.
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