Manufacturing processes provide fascinating insights on the transformation of disparate raw materials into high quality end products that serve the needs of end consumers through their durability, reliability and robustness

Nandini Ananthula, our next pathbreaker, Industrial Engineer, helps organizations optimize complex processes on the assembly line by focusing on continuous improvement which ultimately reduces cost and increases productivity through efficient approaches in manufacturing.

Nandini talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about working across multiple industries, from Automotives to Consumer Electronics and feeling a sense of satisfaction seeing her work having an impact on people’s day to day life.

For students, Industrial Engineering gives you the opportunity to apply your learnings across diverse industries, but with new challenges that push you to innovate everyday to get real and tangible products launched on time .

Nandini, tell us about your background?

Hello, I’m Nandini Ananthula. I grew up in a small town in Telangana (South India). My father is a businessman, and my mother is a housewife. As a kid, I was very active in extra-curricular activities such as Singing, Drama. I also participated in elocution competitions which helped me to hone my skills of English and speaking. Post schooling, I went to Hyderabad to pursue high school as well as my bachelor’s in mechanical engineering. My parents didn’t go to college, but they always encouraged me to follow my passion. They gave me the freedom to choose whatever I want to be. 

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

I did my Bachelor of Science in Mechanical engineering from Sreenidhi Institute of Science & Technology, India, and then a master’s degree in Industrial Engineering from Texas Tech University, USA.

What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and unusual career?

My bachelor’s was in mechanical engineering background with a focus on product development and that made me curious about envisioning how the products are made. During my bachelor’s in mechanical engineering, I was introduced to the various manufacturing processes. I was fascinated with learning more about these processes, so I took an unpaid internship where I worked on CNC horizontal milling machine and developed prototypes. During my time there, I was able to design and manufacture a few smaller components using the CNC machine. I really enjoyed that tangible experience with products which motivated me to pursue post-graduation in Industrial engineering. Indra Nooyi is my inspiration and role model to enter the manufacturing field.

Tell us about your career path

Once I made the decision to pursue higher studies, I chose to study in a foreign university because I was looking for a case study method of studying and teaching tailored towards practical application rather than completely theoretical. When I got admitted into Texas tech University, I was also happy that I can learn about new cultures and interact with people from different countries. Studying in a foreign country definitely made me a stronger person.

My first job was with an automotive supplier company which makes various parts of a car. I enjoyed learning more about how steering wheels, airbags, and other parts are made. It being my very first job, I got introduced to the professional setting and luckily, I found a mentor who coached me. When I got an opportunity to visit my parent company in Japan, I was able to observe the factories there, bring the lessons back to my company in the United States and implement the new methods I captured.

Soon after, I got an opportunity to work for General Motors. As I was involved in making car parts, I wanted to understand how cars are assembled, so I took the opportunity. At GM, my work was mostly related to logistics which involved studying the drivers who transfer materials from one location to another. This experience was a combination of data analytics and IE role. 

In my next job, I worked with Whirlpool. Whirlpool Corporation is a multinational manufacturer and marketer of home appliances. Even though I worked for different industries, at the end of the day, I was able to apply my learnings from one industry to another. From my experience, I can say that when you work in manufacturing, every day is different, you try to solve new problems every day which creates an exciting work environment. It also helped me to develop problem solving skills. 

Looking back and reflecting, I can say that I did not plan each step of my career. It’s okay to have short term goals, take one steady step at a time towards it. 

What were the challenges you faced in your career? How did you address them?

Challenge 1: I didn’t start learning English until after high school, I studied in my native language (Telugu) until then. I was so scared to switch to the English medium. I now wish that the younger me would have known that I’m highly capable of adapting to a new challenge.

Challenge 2: When I took Mechanical Engineering as my major, many people suggested that it’s not a suitable profession for a woman. I was very sad about people constantly questioning why I took Mechanical Engineering as my major. Thankfully, my parents were supportive. 

Challenge 3: My first job was not the best-paid job, so it was challenging initially. But I would say that early jobs in the career should not be defined on the basis of money. I thoroughly enjoyed my job and it helped me shape my career on the right path. If we work hard and continue growing, then money will follow along.

How did you get your first break?

After completing my master’s, my job hunt started, and soon after, I realized that it was very challenging because I was looking for a job without experience, and I also needed sponsorship as I was an international student. I graduated in May, but I started networking and updating my skills, resume in December. Apart from studies, I spent each day going through job listings and finding contacts and preparing for interviews. I reached out to people with similar professions to get inputs and guidance. After a lot of applications, I finally got my first job in June (1 month after my graduation). I believe my proactiveness and starting the job search process early helped me to land a job right after graduation. The company I worked for had no experience in providing work sponsorship, but I was able to convince them to sponsor me. so, mine was the first work visa (H1-B) that the company applied for. From that experience, I would say persistence pays off.

Where do you work now? Tell us about your work

Industrial Engineers (IE) help organizations to optimize complex processes. I currently work at whirlpool corporation; we make around 2200 refrigerators per day on the assembly line that I’m responsible for. IE’s work on continuous improvement projects which ultimately reduces cost and increases productivity. Another part of my job involves working on new product launches. We analyze the manufacturing processes from the prototype stage to mass production and collaborate with product design teams to provide insight into how to minimize labor requirements and determine the assembly process sequence.

On a typical day, IE’s work very closely with quality, materials, and production teams. We are also responsible for designing the workstation layout using software such as AutoCAD. Industrial engineers find ways to eliminate wastage in production processes. They devise efficient systems that integrate workers, machines, materials, information, and energy to make a product or provide a service. I would have 3 buckets as part of my work, 

1) Resolving day to day issues that occur on the production line (every day is different). 

2) Working on new product launches 

3) Working on projects which reduces cost and improves efficiency.

I enjoy my job because there are always new issues, so I develop problem-solving skills. There is always something new to learn and challenge myself.

How does your work benefit society? Rephrasing it, can you say something about your work that can inspire students to pursue this career??

Manufacturing covers a wide variety of industries. It could be anything like Automobiles, Aerospace, and Medical devices, etc. You can choose to work in any field that you are passionate about. In manufacturing, the products made are real and tangible. You could be involved in making a toy or an airplane. When you see the end product, it’s very rewarding to know that the work you did had an impact on people’s day to day life, it’s a sense of accomplishment. When you are working on developing new products, it’s even more exciting to see a product being made from napkin design to mass production. Having worked with multiple companies and various industries, I have seen people continuously grow in this field.

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

When I was working for whirlpool, during covid, we had to shut down the plant for the safety of our employees. At the same time, as we were involved in making refrigerators, a lot of customers were waiting on their orders which caused difficulty, especially when people across the globe are spending more time at home than ever before.

More than any other time, as an industrial engineer, my expertise was required during the pandemic. I was given the task to re-design the speed of the assembly line and design the layout of the job stations in such a way that assemblers can work within a six feet distance. 

This project was special to me because it made employees happy to come back to work with safe conditions and at the same time, our customers were happy to receive the refrigerators during the time when they needed it the most. 

Your advice to students based on your experience?

In an ever-changing, increasingly complex world, it’s more important than ever that we are prepared to bring knowledge and skills to solve problems, make sense of information, and know-how, to gather and evaluate evidence to make decisions. Always self-evaluate or get feedback to assess your strengths, weaknesses, and areas to develop. My advice for the next generation is to be bold and believe in yourself. Be curious, ask a lot of questions, and read a lot.

Future Plans?

I would love to continue to be involved in making products that make people’s day to day life easier. I’m starting my new job in a week, I will be working with Apple and involved in new iPhone launches. I hope to inspire and guide the next generation and especially women to pursue STEM.