> What industry do you work in?
Currently specialty steels. Experience in many different manufacturing areas: automotive, machine tools, glass, tires, electronics, lighting, ...
> What is your favorite aspect of being a Design Engineer?
Seeing my ideas come to life, work as planned, continue to work as planned, and actually solve a problem.
> What is your least favorite?
Negative people (but I have even developed effective ways of working with them too over the decades)
Management of people, budgets, and stupid policies from above.
> What separates the good Design Engineers from the bad? In a sense- what makes you good at what you do?
Good design engineers listen. They try to truly understand a problem before trying to solve it. They value input from those that have to use their equipment.
Good design engineers are ALWAYS asking themselves - "how can this go wrong, or be mis-assembled, or misunderstood, or misused?".
Then they ask those questions again. And again.
Never underestimate the capability of those who will build or use your designs to creatively screw it up.
They ask, "Will I be proud to have my name attached to this project?"
They understand the importance of clear, simple, and thorough communication in both graphic and written form.
They take responsibility for their work, their mistakes. They don't make excuses, even valid ones.
They understand the laws of physics, transmission of forces, vectors.
They go above and beyond, not to show loyalty to a company, but because their own pride will let them do no less.
They NEVER STOP learning. Stay on top of the industry literature and publications. Learn about new products and how to use them properly.
Bad design engineers ask themselves "is this good enough?" They ask "can it work?". They don't ask "What might keep it from working?"
Bad design engineers make excuses.
They put in their 8 hours and go home.
> Do you keep any books/notes handy with you at your desk that you find yourself referencing often?
Yes. First on the list - Machinery's Handbook. ALL good mechanical engineers will have their own well worn copy.
Also, I appreciate paper catalogs. Back in the day, large engineering offices had "Engineering Librarians". Their job was to keep all the hundreds of catalogs and reference books in order. Still today I see more flipping through a paper catalog then I will cruising any website. Paper catalogs are simply better sources of ideas and inspiration.
> What courses from college do you feel your job requires the most knowledge of?
Statics, Dynamics, Stress Analysis, Computer programming, Mechanical Drafting, Geometry, Trigonometry, Algebra.
(Notice I did not say Calculus! Haven't used it once in 40 years!)
> How do you begin designing a part from the ground up? What is your process of conceptualizing a part or component that is needed? (for example - how would you begin to visualize and conceptualize a bracket or a manifold - are you usually given requirements first that your design has to meet?)
1) Make sure you have ALL the information you need, or at least as much as is available.
2) If you're designing something to hold something else in a particular orientation, "start at the end". What is the end result you would like to see as far the relative positions of the components? Draw it.
3) What is available for support? Is it stable? Is it sturdy? Is it safe? Will it create other conflicts or issues?
4) Visualize something I call the "force train". What are the forces created by the object being supported? Which direction are they? Where are they applied? Where and in what direction can you apply forces or moments to the supporting object? Are the forces compressive, tensile, or shear? Or a combination? Understanding the types of forces, their sources, and their support points is critical. Become a MASTER of free-body diagrams.
5) Once you understand the physics of it all, then look at construction options. Materials, methods, etc.
6) Your structure should follow the force train. My wife has learned that when I enter a large open room the first thing I'm going to do is to look up and examine the roof structure. How is it all held up? How are the forces transmitted thru individual pieces and joints? Why are certain pieces and certain joints configured the way they are? What components are in compression? Bending? Tension? What did the engineer have in mind when he or she designed it? Figure it out.
> What tips can you give a college student looking to become better at CAD software and a better overall Design Engineer?
We really don't have enough time for that but I'll give you some basics.
1) FIRST - Forget CAD. Did you hear me? Forget CAD. You're not operating CAD. You're creating graphical representations of designs that will be used by normal people to build and use your ideas. And CAD is just a tool for that purpose. Anything you do or anything your software does that could inhibit that communication should be eliminated. For example, a design may look great on a screen especially with colors to enhance it, but 90% of the work done from that drawing will come from a 2D black and white paper print. It does not matter how it looks on the screen. It matters how clear the print is in the hands of the shop technician.
2) In that regard, line weights are critical, and regrettably are often ignored by "CAD operators". Object lines should be heavy weight. Everything else should be lighter weight.
3) If you are lucky enough to go to work in a facility that still has drawers of old manual drawings, spend as much time as you can studying them. Many of those old guys were true artists. Study their lineweights, their text, their view arrangements. The more hours you spend studying the masters the more likely you are to be one yourself. CAD will not make a good drafter of you. A sloppy carpenter with a good hammer still builds a bad house.
3) Drawings should be complete and thorough, but not complex and confusing. There should be a good reason for every line, symbol, or piece of text on a drawing. Do you need hidden lines there, or do they just confuse the viewer? Think about these things. The more stuff you can REMOVE from a drawing without affecting its accuracy or clarity the better. More is NOT better.
I have lots more...
Work hard, pay attention, and Enjoy!