In our second installment of Eyes of an Engineer, we introduce you to Jessica Miller, Dustin Bruntz, and Kaylee McConnell. They’ve all begun working as friction welding engineers with MTI within the past two years, though they’ve taken very different routes to their careers. Find out what they love about friction welding, how they got into it, and what they enjoy about being part of the MTI team.
Jessica started at MTI with an internship, and moved to full-time in May 2015, after completing her degree at Purdue University-North Central. Her mom and grandpa encouraged her to pursue engineering because of her love of math and science — and their desire for her to be able to earn a good living. She says, “I was interested in nutrition, but looking at the job market, it wasn’t exciting to me. I wanted to find something that was interesting, but that would also allow me to survive as an adult. Engineering was the whole package.” Her favorite aspect of mechanical engineering lies in fluid mechanics, and she’s always up for a challenge.
Dustin’s path to friction welding was longer. He worked in the tree industry for 16 years, beginning right out of high school. He enjoyed being outdoors, and found the dangerous elements of the job to be exciting. But he wasn’t able to advance on a career path, and found that the job was beginning to take its toll physically. He went back to college at age 33, starting at Indiana University at South Bend, then moving to finish school at Indiana-Purdue at Fort Wayne.
“Tinkering and building things was a hobby and excited me,” Dustin says. “My grandfather had retired from South Bend Lathe. He had a lot of machines in his garage and body shop. It was always fun to see what he was working on. He was an inspiration.”
This background became a driving factor in Dustin’s interest in mechanical engineering. To get himself through college, he commuted to South Bend to work weekends and pay for college, rent, and other living expenses. “It was a hectic schedule,” he says, but he made it through.
Kaylee was raised in rural Missouri and graduated from the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, a school offering about 10 different engineering degrees. She credits her interest in metallurgical engineering to her love of chemistry, and also to the chair of the school’s engineering department, Dr. Kent Peaslee, who has since passed away. He introduced her and her classmates to all of the labs, and helped her get her first two internships in the steel industry.
How they got into MTI
While Dustin was doing his weekend work, he says, “I randomly met someone that knew about MTI while on a tree job. We ended up talking about what was going on with our lives and she said, ‘I know a place and some people you should meet.’ I went out for a lunch meeting with MTI people, and they later gave me a tour of the building.”
Dustin was impressed with the friction welding machines he saw on site, and said, “That’s something you want to be a part of.”
Meanwhile, Jessica learned about MTI during her junior year, at an Industrial Roundtable on Purdue’s main campus.
Like Dustin and Kaylee, she had never heard of MTI or friction welding before. “I got into this interview and they immediately started asking me concept questions,” says Jessica, adding, “I froze up. Some of the questions I knew how to answer, but I couldn’t answer. I was so nervous… I even forgot what PSI was. I must have done something right because I got a phone call for an on-site interview.”
After coming to MTI, Jessica noticed a period of adjustment into the workplace. “At first, the environment and all the materials were a bit overwhelming,” she says. “You learn a lot in school. But there’s a lot you don’t learn in school. It’s a challenge to apply what you’ve learned, and I enjoy that aspect of the job.”
MTI landed on Kaylee’s radar while visiting her husband, who was studying for a PhD in electrical engineering at Notre Dame. “I met a former MTI employee at church, and asked him if he knew any place that would be hiring a metallurgist around South Bend. He said the company he had worked for was hiring one. So it was great timing!”
After interning at MTI and working with a colleague to build a database documenting all of the weld specifications for customers, Kaylee was offered a job she could start after graduating. She finished school in December 2015 and returned to South Bend to start work.
At MTI, Jessica quickly discovered the value of learning on the job when she was given the responsibility of designing a tool set for a lab machine. She did the majority of the design work, and worked with another engineer, who offered feedback throughout the process.
“It was a great experience,” she says. “However, when everything got sent out, there were a few issues with some tolerances that did not fit into the cavity like they were supposed to. It was cool to be given the responsibility for something I designed to be made — but at the same time didn’t work like it should. I was upset about it.”
“A lot of positives came from the experience," she adds. "I learned how to prevent those things from going wrong in the future. A few bumps in the road and in the end, everything was okay.”
Dustin adds that this evaluation process has been valuable, particularly during his own internship stage. “One of the cool things about the internship was designing things and having them evaluate the designs.”
He started out learning about the software used in the MTI offices, and later began working in Manufacturing Services, which does contract friction welding at MTI. “They put me on a parts assembly line, and then into inspection,” he says. “I was able to see a lot of the aspects that my work as an engineer would be going through.”
Dustin is now working in the Rotary Friction Welding division, and adds that he enjoys seeing designs being produced and manufactured right here at MTI. “All these engineers have all these ideas they’re coming up with and putting on paper,” he says. “They get to see them made. A lot of people don’t get to do that at other companies, but that’s my favorite thing.”
Working at MTI
One reason Jessica and Kaylee enjoy the work environment at MTI is the level of sophistication combined with a small company atmosphere. For example, MTI promotes open communication across all levels.
“It’s family-owned and smaller,” says Jessica. “It’s small enough that everyone knows you on a first-name basis. At a larger company, you’re just a number. But here, the owner of the company knows my name, and can have a conversation with me. I feel like I matter.” She notes that the COO at MTI has even offered her advice on how to move forward in her education and receive an MBA.
I’m not working on the same thing over and over and over, she says. "A lot of the other people in my graduating class have had internships where they’re not given any challenges or responsibilities. It’s basically just filler work. That’s not how it is at MTI. Even as an intern, I was given responsibility, and felt MTI was concerned with my well-being, and growing as an individual.”
Kaylee echoes this sentiment, saying, “There aren’t too many places you can see friction welding. It’s a very innovative field. The small, family-owned company is great to be a part of. People look out for you. You wear a lot of hats, and you learn a lot.”
And the problem-solving element of the work is a great challenge for someone like her. “What we do is provide solutions for our customers on welding their parts together," Kaylee said. "They come to us and ask if we can do this or that. We give them feedback and do our best to provide cost-effective answers.”
Find a career path at MTI
Want to learn more about working at MTI? Check out our Careers page, and contact us with any questions you may have!