The Society of Plastics Engineers just concluded its 41st annual Automotive Innovation Awards program. That would put the first one around 1970. I don’t go back that far, but I did start participating as an occasional judge soon after I joined Plastics World in 1986.
One thing struck me after the October judging for this year’s winners, which were announced last week. And that was the young age of many of the presenters. I was told it wasn’t a blip—there really are a lot more young engineers in positions of prominence because of the large number of automotive industry layoffs during the economic recession (major crisis in Detroit) of 2008 and 2009.
Examples of the impressive new generation of automotive engineers:
Michael Medoro, Ford. In his seventh year in Ford product engineering, Mike was the design and release engineer for a seat controls plastic module bracket that won the body
interior category. He began his automotive engineering career at Lear in 2000.
Junko Pauken, Ford. Junko presented data on the MuCell instrument panel that was the grand award winner. She has participated in the development of many technical innovations at Ford and was listed as an inventor for a protective layer for an airbag assembly that was awarded a patent in July.
Jake Welland, Hyundai/Kia. Jake is a Materials Manager at the Hyundai America Technical Center and became an engineer at Hyundai in 2005. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Eastern Michigan University in Polymers & Coatings in 1990. He made the presentation on volcanic-filler pillar trim that won the materials category.
Elizabeth Johnston, Ford. Elizabeth earned master’s degrees in engineering and industrial health at the University of Michigan in 1996 and worked as an ergonomics engineer at Ford from 1998 to 2009. She’s now part of the Advanced Green Engineering Group at Ford, which she told me operates separately from Debbie Mielewski’s research group that has done industry-leading work on use of soy-based foams. Elizabeth presented Ford’s work on use of coconut husk fibers in automotive components, which was a finalist.
Michelle Weisgerber, ITW. Michelle, who began her career at Lear in 1999, is lead engineer at ITW Superb Products. She made a presentation on a plastic ratcheting stud insert used in the 2012 Camaro to replace metal fasteners. The self-centering ratcheting insert allows for a much quicker load/hold. It was a finalist.