Though there are multiple paths to take up a career in core engineering, they all share a common curiosity to know how products are conceptualized, designed and manufactured to meet stringent industry requirements !

Nandeesh Gududoor, our next pathbreaker, Senior Systems Engineer at American Axle & Manufacturing, works on technology that shifts the 2-Wheel Drive mode to All-Wheel drive and vice versa based on the driving condition.

Nandeesh talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about his R&D career in design & development of a diverse range of sub-systems for automotive engines.

For students, getting challenged everyday with various types of issues makes a career in core engineering worth it. As they say, without pain, there is no gain !

Nandeesh, Your background?

I was born and brought up in Hospet (Karnataka) that is close to the historic city Hampi which is well known for the Vijayanagara empire. I studied my primary, higher primary and diploma, all in Hospet. Right from my childhood, I used to play a lot of chess with my dad which led to participating in a lot of chess competitions. And, in higher primary I had a classmate with whom I became good friends. Whenever a chess competition happened in the city, either he would end up being the winner and I would be the runner-up or vice versa.

While my dad was an accountant by profession, my mom is multi-talented. She was a weaver, tailor, knitter and most importantly, a mother who took care of her 5 children (I was the youngest one). 

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

I had studied for a Diploma in Tool and Die making at the Government Toolroom and Training center. I did a Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from BMSCE, Basavanagudi, and a Master’s degree in Automotive Product Design from MS Ramaiah school of Advanced Studies.

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

After my 10th standard, I was expecting a normal career, by attending pre-university, pursuing some degree and then preparing for the KSP (Karnataka State Police) exams. But my Mom found out about a diploma course which happened to be pursued by her friend’s son which had good job opportunities. I spoke to him and was convinced enough to get enrolled because studying for a diploma was a rather quicker way to get a job which I very much needed at that time to support my family financially. 

The main mantra of this tool and die making diploma is to know how things are made. This is the most essential ingredient for any curious engineer, and this was bred into us in our early diploma days. In every year of my diploma I stood in the top 10 rank holders in the entire state, mainly because I just loved what I was doing.

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path

After my diploma (3 years), we had to attend another year of internship in any industry to apply our learnings in work and earn our diploma certificate. I joined TAFE tractors as a Tool and Die Maker, this company manufactures molds to produce plastic components for big Automakers. I had real hands-on experience on the shop floor by making mold tools. The knowledge and skills that this role provided me are the ones that I still keep using. On the other hand, I was also curious about the end products, which were the plastic parts that were delivered to various Auto OEMs. I started thinking about how these parts work on the car or bike. But, learning that was out of the scope in relation to what I did on the shop floor. To get this knowledge, we need to enter the design field. Hence, I started to learn CAD (Computer Aided Designing) software after my work hours. I worked for 12 hours a day in my regular job and an additional couple of hours in order to learn design software. This was the schedule for the next 1 year.

After completing my internship and earning my diploma, TAFE offered me a permanent job in the quality department which I refused because my area of interest was design. For the next 6 months, I was searching for a job. But I found none because for a design job one needs experience and I did not have any. Finally, a small firm hired me for a pay that was less than my internship pay. Still, due to my passion towards design, I joined and worked hard to gain as much knowledge as I could. We were designing fixtures and gauges for medium sized companies. I learnt a lot about design objectives for manufacturing (DFM) and mass production by working in this company.

After that, I landed my 1st full time job at Allegis services. At that time, Allegis was working on a major legacy data migration job for General Motors. I was part of Body In White (BIW) team. Our job was to reverse engineer the current parts into parametric 3D (Unigraphics NX) parts so that they can be edited for future use. 

While my career was shaping as I had expected, I also wanted to earn degrees. One of my colleagues at Allegis was studying Mechanical Engineering at an evening college. I asked for more details and found that admission was through CET exams just like for the regular day college students. I’m a big believer that once you start doing something from your heart then all the stars align by themselves. Allegis supported me by allowing me to work only in the 1st shift work schedule so that I could attend my evening engineering classes. After my job hours, I started preparing for CET exams and cracked it with a decent rank and joined the evening engineering classes at BMSCE, Basavanagudi. 

During my 6th semester, there was a walkin interview arranged by Timesjobs for General Motors company. This iconic company is in the mind of every engineer who thinks of a career in Automotives. Even though I hardly had 2 yrs of experience and only a diploma degree, I still tried to give it a shot. Surprisingly, after joining a 0.5 km long queue of aspiring candidates for various positions, followed by 6 rounds of 1-1 interviews, followed by a model testing at their premises, I did crack it and joined GENERAL MOTORS a( sigh of self belief)!

I joined the engine design team where we created concept 3D models in Unigraphics for various engine programs. For some days, I even routed electrical harnesses in the engine bay using Unigraphics software. Even GM helped me by assigning me to the1st shift work schedule so that I could attend my evening engineering classes. Finally!, I earned my Bachelor of Engineering degree (Mechanical Engineering) in 2010 and soon after that, I enrolled for a part-time Masters degree program at MS Ramaiah school of advanced studies and earned my Post-graduation degree in 2012.

After the rigorous hustle between education and job for 7 yrs, I took a much needed break and visited Himalayas for 10-days trekking which happened to be on my bucket list. 

How did you get your first break?

Post General Motors, I joined a core product development company, Mann+Hummel. This company provides Filtration subsystems for major automotive OEM’s in the world. Along with the Air Filters they have a wide product range such as Air Intake Manifold, Cylinder head cover with integrated crankcase ventilation system, charge Air ducts and Oil filter modules. This company made me a complete engineer. Over the years, I progressed from Sr. designer to becoming the Manager for Design and Development. My role starts when the company sales team gets a notification from any Indian automotive OEM that they are looking for the product that is in our portfolio. Iam involved in creating concept models, tolerance stack up calculations, performance evaluation through CFD and structural analysis including following best practices in manufacturing to meet engine targets. Once the business is awarded to us, we initially provide prototypes for the customer to validate their design assumptions and intended targets. There are several rapid prototyping methods that we use such as SLS, SLA (Vacuum casting) and soft tooling. Based on the quantity required, kind of testing exposure for the product, we choose one of them. Sometimes we modify the design slightly to suit the rapid prototyping method due to manufacturing constraints which has to be mutually agreed with the customer. There are several internal tests that are performed, my role is also responsible for creating the Design Validation Plan as well as foreseeing the testing by ensuring proper testing fixtures are made and the part is oriented to replicate the vehicle assembly. Once the rapid prototyping is proven both internally and also on the customer engine, the next step is to take the lessons learnt from the testing and move onto the mass production phase. 

In this phase, we need to work with manufacturing, purchasing and quality teams to choose various suppliers for the Bill of Materials. Special purpose assembly machines will be installed in the manufacturing plants to assemble the product. To get any business for a company, the emphasis is not only on engineering but also on competitive costing. So, to get the parts from suppliers at the best cost, numerous technical discussions take place where we trade off with drawing tolerances for a better price, sometimes an off-the-shelf component will get your product inline with competitive pricing. During my time at M+H, I made many mistakes, quickly learned from them and delivered what the company expected from me. 

What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?

Working with People: 

As the old saying goes “Your New Idea Is Worthless Unless You Know How to Sell It”. Working with OEMs/customers, sales team, program management, quality and manufacturing might be overwhelming, but if we know the product that we are working on, to its very details, then the organization embraces us with possible solutions. The best lesson learnt is to open up the issue at hand to the floor and you will be amazed with the solutions that are on offer. You cannot walk all the paths in your life, sometimes you mostly learn from others’ journeys which I would call a “True Experience”. Always keep your ears open to others.

Working with Product Testing: 

There may be a big idea on paper, but unless we prove that by testing it, the idea will remain an idea. I see many things go for a toss when manufacturing comes into the picture, and unforeseen issues come up. If we resolve them and subject them to rigorous testing, then half job is done.  

Working with manufacturing plants: 

Manufacturing plants are the cash cows for any company, they have a certain way of working and we need to quickly adapt to working in plants. The issues they face everyday are the ones we need to take care of in the design, to make their life easier. The more we talk to them, the more we learn.

Where do you work now? 

I’m currently working at American Axle and Manufacturing, Detroit, USA as a “Sr. Systems Engineer”. This company is the Tier-1 supplier for all major Automotive OEMs providing driveline solutions. I’m currently working on a “Disconnecting All Wheel Drive Power Transfer Unit”. This technology basically shifts the 2-Wheel Drive mode to All-Wheel drive and vice versa based on the driving condition. If the vehicle speed crosses above a certain level, then the connection via propshaft and the rear drive unit will be removed and that will help in improving the vehicle efficiency/mileage. 

What are some of the problems you solve?

Being a Systems engineer I am basically representing the engineering face of my company to customers. There are numerous challenges that come my way every day. Let’s take few examples as below:

  • A Part that was designed and supplied is leaking on a customer vehicle while testing in Arizona or Europe or in China. How do you know if it is due to your part or some other issue in the vehicle that is making it fail? Asking the right questions will help in determining the initial scope of work.
  • A supplier who supplies some key components in your product has difficulty in machining the part and this is yielding a lot of first-time rejections in their line that contributes to their losses and they propose a new idea? We must go through the new idea and evaluate if the newly produced part can cause any product testing issue, because any new idea has to go through proper testing, which can delay the initial launch which needs to be assessed for both cost and time.
  • The interesting one: The product that you designed was properly manufactured and shipped for testing. While testing, the product is failing erratically, every part that you put is failing in a different way? Even though the testing was performed correctly, sometimes the test rig itself is sensitive to your part. Thinking out of the box when issues arise does help.

All the solutions for the problems above come over time, by focusing on the product, working with various people and having a “never give up” attitude. Sometimes it feels silly that a solution pops up while on a coffee table, it is the love of the job that makes me push myself and make it big.

Every day is not the same, you plan to deliver something on a given day and you suddenly get a call for a completely unrelated issue. This teaches me to prioritize things as needed. 

Getting challenged everyday for various types of issues makes an engineer love his job and I see it every day. 

How does your work benefit society? 

Getting more miles per gallon and reducing the carbon footprint is the need of the hour, through innovative solutions without compromising the joy of driving a car.

The product that I currently work on, transfers the AWD (All Wheel drive) function to 2WD (Two-wheel drive) based on vehicle speed and vice versa and this increases the gas mileage of the vehicle.

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

No matter how many products I launch over time, the 1st product launch is always close to my heart, which was a plastic cylinder head cover with crankcase ventilation system for the Mahindra KUV 1OO, both Gasoline and Diesel engine.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

Based on my experience, I suggest that if you need something, then you need to work for it and be adamant in choosing it over anything that is on offer. Only with perseverance will you get it, if not you, who will fight for you?

Future Plans?

I want to pursue the career that I chose for a few more years and once I reach 50, want to relax with decent travel plans with family alongside.