CAAT 2019: broader training, experiences needed for automobility engineers

Mobility companies making high quality decisions faster than their competitors will win the race to market, says Jeff Lowinger, president of eMobility at Eaton Corp. During his keynote speech at the 2019 Center for Advanced Automotive Technology (CAAT) at Macomb Community College, Lowinger outlined his vision of the engineers for the vehicles of tomorrow.

“We can hire capable people from the field. We can buy the same manufacturing equipment. But what’s different is our experiences,” Lowinger says.

Much like the mobile phone that has shot past the landline for the variety of everyday tools it has made redundant--think alarm clock, watch, flashlight--advanced vehicles will be designed for more than just the single-owner model. Ridesharing, variable mobility applications, and autonomous vehicles will require the move away from the traditional internal combustion engine (ICE). “An autonomous vehicle will not go a million miles on an ICE,” Lowinger says.

As vehicles advance and transform, built on electric engines and components that rely on lines of code, the most successful products will be created by a new breed of engineer who understands the interplay between mechanical, electrical, industrial, and software in the vehicle.

“Nothing is a pure mechanical problem anymore, and the complexity of problems is accelerating. Everything is electromechanical, and that’s where we need to start educating people,” he says. “The changes in education need to accelerate.”

As a former member of the Industry Advisory Board for the Rutgers University School of Engineering, Lowinger sees the knowledge gap between traditionally-trained automotive engineers and the skills needed for future automobility.

“The curriculum has not changed very much,” he says. “Students are required to take four semesters of calculus, but does that help? We teach students the basics and they learn when the answer is wrong, not when it is right. They don’t necessarily understand that if the answer is wrong, why it is wrong.” Critical analysis is a key component to problem solving, he says.

Jeff Lowinger, president of eMobility at Eaton, shares the complexities of modern vehicle and road usage.


“Accelerate technology, or someone else will”

Offering a historical example from the entertainment industry, Lowinger shares that in 2000, former video rental company Blockbuster had the option to purchase then-newcomer Netflix for $50 million. In 2010 Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy, and in 2019, Netflix is worth $150+ billion.

“We need to accelerate technology or someone else will,” he says.

While engineers and technicians are integral to the evolution of vehicles, the traditional engine has changed, and will continue to change as technology advances. “To accelerate the pace of innovation we need engineers with a diverse knowledge base, a progressive college curriculum, and companies that provide an environment where innovation can flourish,” Lowinger says.

The path to a reimagined education may seem obvious in some ways. Getting there is the challenge, and success requires industry to commit to helping current employees grow by allowing engineering teams the time and resources to fail, by cultivating creativity, and by allowing engineers to experience fulfilling other functions early in their careers. For example, connecting young engineers to mentors in finance, operations, and other disciplines within an organization can provide that wider perspective that experts say will be critical to success in next-generation mobility.

“Think about the behaviors you want, the learning agility of the individual, and ask yourself how do you bring that to market? It may require you to think differently as an organization,” Lowinger says, concluding with a quote from author E.M. Forster.

“One person with passion is better than 40 people merely interested.”


Photos courtesy of CAAT/Macomb Community College

 
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