Learning on the Job: A Product Design Engineer’s Journey into Building Science
Written by Jimit Modi
Edited by Joe Dakin
SMT is a multi-disciplinary company, and we are fortunate to have team members from all different backgrounds. As a history major, I certainly didn’t learn a great deal of building science in college. Instead, I asked one of our product design engineers to reflect on his lessons learned since coming into the industry, and what he wishes he had known earlier. Jimit has a masters in Electrical and Computer Engineering, with three years in industry under his belt. He joined SMT in 2021 and has been developing innovative solutions to optimise our suite of technology.
Growing up I was captivated by massive structures, wondering how they were designed and built. This interest in how things work and fit together likely contributed to my decision to pursue a career in engineering. After graduating, I started an internship with a firm associated with building science - a huge field which combines physics, chemistry, engineering, architecture and metallurgy. Every passing day there is technological advancement in some aspect of our lives and building science is no different. I was primarily responsible for developing human machine interfacing for a building belonging to one of their clients. This was a fascinating role in which I discovered that new generation buildings are well stacked with modern technology and autonomous circuitry, and can be controlled with a small box called a “PLC” - or programmable logic controller. I felt lucky to have the opportunity to learn about these exciting developments “on-the-job”, as this was something that I never learned in school. My studies tended to be more theoretical in nature, so it was incredibly refreshing and interesting to learn how real world problems are being solved in industry today.
Upon completing my masters I had been further exposed to the field of engineering and design, this experience opened my eyes to the vast world of the building science. I joined SMT research and was amazed that building roof leaks can actually be detected way before they start leaking. I have never seen anything like that before and I was excited to learn more. As a working engineer, it is gratifying to have the opportunity to dig down into the physics of the tools we use - nothing makes me happier than finding a new and more efficient way of doing things.
While my studies prepared me well for programming circuit boards and designing products, I was less familiar with the necessity of sourcing components. It will surprise none of you to read that I soon ran into problems with the global chip shortage in the market of electronics. SMT’s custom sensors and data-loggers are built to be flexible in terms of their application, which requires sourcing components that play well with other. We have radio module that is used to communicate wirelessly for several distance nodes, it turned out to be discontinued by the manufacturer. This could have been a major setback had SMT not prepared mitigation strategies for this kind of supply chain issue. I was ably to draw on my own experience and learn from colleagues about how to find alternatives. Of course, this meant also thinking about the cost of components, lead times, and many other production logistics that can often escape the mind of a designer.
Being well organised is very important when you are studying, however this is nothing compared to the requirements of being part of an engineering department. Not only do I personally need to keep my own work-space and documentation organised, but I must also be aware that I am part of a larger department and company, and my work contributes to greater goals. In practice, I found that this means labelling documents in a consistent manner, uploading them to the correct place, and keeping in the loop with my colleagues through stand-up meetings. In college I was part of many group projects, however these are usually short-term and focussed. In my on the job learning, I have found that it takes a focussed effort to stay organised over the long term - the payoff is that I am able to access my past work easily, and department-wide efforts move along much more smoothly.
Overall, the main thing I have learned is that it is an engineer’s job to never stop learning. There are always new developments in industry, new techniques, and new skills that one can acquire. I am very thankful for the excellent education I received in my undergraduate and masters, they gave me the theory and training to enter into the work-place, where I now study at the university of life!