Heavy industry is undergoing a major generational shift. People who mastered their trades in in the 1970s and 1980s now are more interested in bouncing grandkids on their knees or going fly fishing, so they are passing what they know to a new cohort of engineers and technicians. People like Andrew Perfetti, one of Thermal-Vac’s process engineers, are making the most of it.
“The transitions are happening everywhere,” Andrew explains. “Companies we work with are experiencing it, too. Voids are appearing and we’re constantly striving to keep up with them all.”
The challenge for younger engineers like Andrew starts on day one, when they start finding out how little they know. It can be a humbling experience for a 20-something who is used to being the smarty-pants in the room. “A lot of the stuff we do day-to-day isn’t covered in course work,” he says. “You have to learn it by doing it.”
Wanting to make things fly
Andrew’s father was the DIY type. They worked together on house renovations from when Andrew was pretty small. Having just bought a house of his own, Andrew is gearing up to follow in his father’s footsteps.
When he’s not tackling worn-out toilets, he’s thinking about taking flight. “I’ve always been in love with aviation,” Andrew says. “The marvel of a million-pound aircraft floating on thin air has always amazed me.”
He went to U.C. Irvine achieving a degree in Aerospace Engineering. When Thermal-Vac reached out to him and told him about the projects they were working on, he jumped at the chance. “Thrusters for satellites. How much cooler can it get.”
Engineering in a dynamic environment
The machine shop where Andrew worked before coming to Thermal-Vac split up engineering from quality control. Coming to Thermal-Vac was a big change from the job he’d had in school, working for a small machine shop. “Here, engineering and quality control are dynamic. They ebb and flow with each other. Engineering is pervasive throughout the company.”
The dynamism of the process is matched by the collaborative nature of the work. “I oversee brazing, heat treating, and some of the metal finishing processes. I spend my days interacting with the managers and team members in each of these areas, working directly on an assembly, assessing cycle times, or fielding technical questions as they arise.”
“Engineering supports everything that happens here,” Andrew says. “We are a big driver in understanding process issues. We help the team understand equipment and how operational approaches affect things.” It’s often a conversation with the team on the floor to tackle challenges. “Our collaborative culture is one of the unique things about Thermal-Vac,” he says.
“The main focus is to ensure that a product is conforming, but we also act as a quality presence throughout the company,” Andrew says. “We also do a good amount of consultation with customers to help them accomplish their goals.”
The work isn’t always easy
Andrew says the diversity of projects at Thermal-Vac is one of the reasons he loves his job. “We’ve got defense, medical, commercial—you name it.” He’s helped experiment with better ways to make golf clubs. And of course, he’s worked on components destined for space exploration. “You can go from working on a part that’s a thousand pounds to a part that’s only a fraction of an inch,” he says.
Living the dream has also been full of challenges. “One project brought up some complex cleanliness issues,” he recalls. The brazing was not giving them the results the customer wanted, and finding a solution took some sleuthing. “We tried to collect as much data as we could to figure out the surface conditions before and after brazing.”
To stay on top of the challenge, Andrew remains an avid student of his science. “I try to stay relevant and exposed to the rest of the industry as much as possible,” he says. He spends whatever spare time he has reading up on the latest developments in the industry, re-reading the Brazing Handbook, and learning from his mentors on the shop floor. He recently applied join the brazing specifications committee of the American Welding Society. “I love networking with people in the industry,” he says.
Looking to the future
Working for a family-owned business has been important for Andrew. “They work hard to make us feel like we’re a part of the family,” he says. “It instills a certain passion and sense of community you don’t get in other companies. You don’t want to let the family down.”
When asked about the future, Andrew keeps his vision focused. “I’m excited to lock on the master processes for production routing,” he says. “A new part comes through the door and engineering is involved every step of the way. We’re perfecting our process so outliers and potential issues can be addressed from the get-go.”
People like Andrew are big reason for Thermal-Vac’s success over the decades. Want to join him as part of the Thermal-Vac team? Give us a call at (714) 997-2601 to rap about engineering. We’d love to tell you about what we do and learn about where you’d like to go in the industry.