Jamie Kelso, Mechanical Engineer
“The people who work here are really the best thing. It’s a good collection of really smart people – I know that gets said a lot, but it’s true. It’s also great that people can move around into different positions. For example, if your current department is a little slow, but you have experience in a different department, it’s not a problem for you to move around.”
Jamie Kelso has been with SIGMADESIGN for 5 years. He has a unique background that propelled him into a career in engineering. He enjoys FEA, continued learning, tinkering and getting outdoors.
WHAT WAS YOUR YOUTH LIKE?
I was born and raised in Newberg, Oregon. I’ve always enjoyed tinkering with things, and spent a lot of time doing that as a kid. LEGOs were always my favorite toy, and I still have a bin full of them, along with the instructions for every kit. My dad, who was an operating engineer at St. Vincent hospital, would bring things home and say “Have fun taking this apart.” There was never a requirement to put it back together, so a lot of things remained in pieces; it was fun to disassemble them, and figure out how they worked.
WHAT DREW YOU TO PROFESSIONAL ENGINEERING?
Dad was also an avid train nerd, so we spent weekends chasing trains, and building various models. We ran the gambit from small scales to full-size train parts. Building those trains got me interested in mechanics and machining. We installed a retrofit CNC onto my dad’s lathe to assist with the builds, which wasn’t as common as it is now, so it took a bit of effort.
I was working at a machine shop in Astoria trueing propellers for commercial and personal boats, which is a specialty that not a lot of places do. It’s not easy work, but I got pretty good at it. While I enjoyed working there, I knew in the long-term, it wasn’t going to be easy on my body. After working there for about four years, I decided to go back to school. I wasn’t certain it’d be engineering, but I knew I wanted to do something related to machining and mechanics. I liked the idea of being able to design, analyze, and figure out how a product would break. I figured if I could do calculus for a year, then I’d be able to do the rest of it.
HOW WAS YOUR EDUCATIONAL EXPERIENCE?
While living in Astoria, there wasn’t a lot to do, so I was able to save money and focus on school. I spent two years at Clatsop Community College, then transferred to Portland State University. At CCC I took Engineering 101, but it didn’t include programming so when I transferred I had to take Engineering 101 again. It was much easier the second time around, and I felt pretty smart for knowing everything already.
During school, I devoted every second of every day to engineering. My favorite place to be at school was in the middle of everything. I did all of my studying in the lobby of the science building. It was all school, all the time for three years. I’ve always been the kind of person who would rather work first and play later, but the problem with that is there’s always more work!
My capstone project encompassed flying on the KC-135 (the “Vomit Comet”) at Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX. The project focused on studying microfluidics in zero-G. I designed a fixture that was simply a disc with a tube of liquid inside. I watched how the bubbles behaved as the plane performed the parabolic arcs, which provided 30 seconds of zero-G at a time. My professor had 10 or 15 years of NASA experience, which is how we were able to do the project there, but now they just use a drop tester on campus to do the same experiment. Also during my senior year, I was on a team that built a mini F1 race car from the ground up.
WHAT IS IT LIKE WORKING AT SIGMADESIGN?
As of February, 2019, I’ve worked at SIGMADESIGN for five years. At first, I worked on a couple of small projects, learned how to use PTC Creo, and then began working on the Printrayce apple labeler project. This was the first time I leveraged firmware, software, and mechanical knowledge into a complex system at SIGMADESIGN. As the de facto project manager, it was a good way to learn how things worked at SIGMADESIGN.
Next, I moved on to working on a project that required me to learn yet another skillset. The team had a lot of technical problems that needed to be solved. I really had to push my knowledge of plastics, testing, batteries, motors, packaging, and so much more. It allowed me to learn Python for data processing, modeling, and analysis. That project was more complicated than we expected, we reference it a lot now when we talk about how to quote projects.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT YOUR PROFESSION?
The electrical and mechanical integration of things. I like to see how things work together, and figure out optimal ways of making them fit and operate. I love learning new processes, engineering tools, and playing around in CAD (CAD is honestly a lot of fun – it’s a video game). I’ve learned how the rigor of a good CAD model and can drive the efficiency of the model development.
I like that there’s always something new to learn. Like I said earlier, “there’s always more work” – it’s not like engineering stops when you’ve solved this one problem. I didn’t want to burn out in college, so I stopped myself from doing an electrical engineering minor, but it’s something I hope to go back to someday. For now, Ohm’s law gets me through a lot of challenges. I’ve learned a lot about thermal analysis and heat transfer for a project I’m currently working on. I had to design a heat exchanger, and that’s not something I’d ever done before. It’s fun to figure things out!
I also really love FEA (Finite Element Analysis). I did it so much at a previous job that I became somewhat of an expert in it.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT YOUR WORK AT SIGMADESIGN?
The diversity of projects. I’ve mostly worked on long-term projects, so I haven’t really experienced a ton of diversity, but the possibility is there.
I appreciate that when you have downtime, you’re encouraged to try new things and learn. During some downtime, I learned how to use Lisp , made a macro to generate SIGMADESIGN part numbers more easily, and worked with the macro for our BOM structure. It’s great that SIGMADESIGN is cool with engineers (or anyone) spending time doing things that improve the company.
The people who work here are really the best thing. It’s a good collection of really smart people – I know that gets said a lot, but it’s true. It’s also great that people can move around into different positions. For example, if your current department is a little slow, but you have experience in a different department, it’s not a problem for you to move around.
HOW DO THE CORE VALUES INFLUENCE YOUR WORK?
Everyone is hired based on their fit with the Core values. Everyone is driven by them, we all acknowledge them, and are working toward them. It’s instinctual for people who work here to follow those – you don’t have to think about it, but it’s always at the forefront.
The Core values are hard to see, but that’s why it’s part of our interview process. If employees didn’t have an instinctual leaning to the Core values, SIGMADESIGN would be a very different place.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO DO OUTSIDE OF WORK?
It’s probably no surprise that I like to tinker with things. I’m an amateur firmware developer, fiddle with Arduino projects, and play with OzoBot with my kids. OzoBot is a little robot you program by drawing lines with different colored inks. It follows the lines and performs commands based on the color you’ve drawn. It’s pretty cool.
I have a hard time leaving things at work, so it’s more engineering-related stuff at home. I have a big collection of junk that I hope to be able to use for something someday. Mechanical engineers are typically pack rats.
While at a previous job, I took a cat feeder (dispenser type) and added an NFC reader and a speaker. We have two cats, so the reader would see the cats’ collars and dispense food. I could track how often each cat went to the feeder and limit each cat’s food allowance to three times a day. I also experimented with auditory conditioning using the speaker, but it didn’t really amount to much. It was a fun project, though.
WHAT IS YOUR DREAM PROJECT?
I’m interested in engineering that involves alternative energy. I like the idea of working on things that are good for the environment, and for the good of people – things that make the world a better place.