Monday, September 12, 2011

How I Spent My Summer Vacation (By Rob Davidoff, Age 20)

It has recently come to my attention that, despite the evidence to the contrary evidence of the post rate here at Engineer in Progress, I am in fact not dead. In fact, with the start of the school year, I’ve actually had time to do things, even! With that, I thought it would be worth bringing everyone up to date on my summer and what I’ve managed to get checked off of the To-Do List of All Dooms.

In this post, I’d like to talk a bit about what I did this summer (a topic that makes me feel like I’m making a presentation in second grade). As you may recall, I spent this summer as a test engineering intern at Ferno-Washington in Wilmington, OH. I meant most of the summer to write a post describing what exactly what that meant, what it involved, and what I felt I was learning, but unfortunately between my mom’s health issues, the commute to work, and other complications, I never had the time. So let’s start things with that.

"So what is test engineering?", I hear you ask (unless you're part of the 50% of my traffic that's just here for the pictures, in which case you'll be more interested in the diagram of the BA-2100 in another post planned for later this week). I'm glad you asked. Basically, test engineering is involved with the testing required to test various design concepts during engineering development, and then to validate design prototypes against internal and external standards to ensure that the final product can do what it needs to do. If design engineering is about making solutions to problems, test engineering is involved in picking the best solutions and making sure the solutions work as intended under varied conditions.

This meant a lot of dealing with paperwork, and a lot of dealing with standards. In doing this, I came to some realizations about the two. This summer at Ferno, my major responsibilities were processing test requests from design engineers, carrying out and documenting the testing, then preparing formal reports about the test, which meant I had a lot of experience with paperwork. In my ten weeks at Ferno, I participated in closing out about 30 tests, which included both ones I performed in addition to ones that had been performed prior to my arrival, but which had my boss had not had time to document himself. In both cases, while preparing the formal test reports, I depended extensively on photographic and written documentation of the events of the test. And the reports themselves had value: for many reports, we would refer during the test planning stages to setup descriptions of similar tests in the past to ensure that our methods were consistent with the past setups.

Standards also played a major role in my summer work at Ferno. In testing, the question that was always asked about a new test request was the purpose of the test--what was intended to be learned. Was it to compare several design solutions and find the "best"? Was it intended to determine whether a prototype was capable of performing as desired? In all these cases, standards played a critical role in planning the test and evaluating the test results. These standards could be regulatory, part of the standards that Ferno's products had to meet to be certified for use in the demanding conditions emergency equipment may encounter, or they could be internal standards to ensure that the product also provides users with the quality they rely on. In dealing with these standards in testing, I came to better appreciate the need to have such standards. Without a defined standard to test to, a test really isn't informative. The standards themselves must be meaningful (testing to proof or ultimate loads or simulating field conditions), but a test done to a meaningful standard is far more meaningful than one without a defined standard.

All in all, I really enjoyed my time at Ferno. I was lucky that most of my co-workers were friendly and easy to work with, and I feel like I made a valuable contribution during my time there. When I arrived, the test report backlog had grown to more than thirty reports, on the day I left it had been reduced to six, none more than a week removed from the date of test completion. I feel like I learned a lot more about the purpose of testing in engineering and what makes a test valuable, and I look forward to carrying these lessons on with me, both to the Aerodesign team this school year and on to other areas of my professional career. So, yeah, that's what I did this summer. I have more to say about what I've been up to since my last day at Ferno, but since this post is already pretty long, I'll leave it for another time.

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