Ian McEachern | Artificial Hearts, Times Square LED Displays, & Engineering Freelancing
Who is Ian McEachern?
For over 15 years Ian McEachern has been helping cutting edge companies design highly complex products including artificial hearts, blood pumps, and class III medical devices. Products Ian has designed are in Times Square, the Disney Parks, the Smithsonian, and implanted in people around the world. Ian, I’m super excited to talk with you today, thank you for joining me on the show.
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design, engineer, company, pump, projects, work, engineering, called, test, world, projector, big, folks, people, mechanical, business, software, product, cfd, apollo
Presenter, Ian McEachern, Aaron Moncur
The being an engineer podcast is a repository for industry knowledge and a tool through which engineers learn about and connect with relevant companies, technologies, people, resources and opportunities. Enjoy the show.
Ian McEachern 00:15
And we built 10 things that didn’t work and then I was down on the production floor with a with a jig saw cutting out holes because I screwed up my design. Everything that I’ve learned where I’m at today, I learned from others and I learned by failure, and I learned by doing that
Aaron Moncur 00:43
Hello, and welcome to another edition of the being an engineer podcast. Our guest today is Ian McEachern, who for over 15 years has been helping cutting edge companies design highly complex products, including artificial hearts, blood pumps, and class three medical devices. Products Ian has designed are in Times Square, the Disney parks, the Smithsonian, and implanted in people around the world. And I’ve been super excited to talk with you. And I appreciate you joining me for the show today.
Ian McEachern 01:18
Thank you so much for having me.
Aaron Moncur 01:20
So what made you decide to become an engineer?
Ian McEachern 01:24
When I was growing up, I used to watch a lot of MacGyver and shows like that there was a show called three to one contact that I remember watching and I, from a young age always wanted to knew I wanted to make things and invent things. So when I was really young, I used to say I wanted to be an inventor. And then as I grew up, I realized that the best way to get there was to be an engineer.
Aaron Moncur 01:46
That’s awesome. I loved MacGyver growing up. I remember watching the first the first episode I ever saw. And there was this cool spy guy that was you know, jumping out of planes or using chewing gum to detonate a wall or whatever he was doing. But that is an answer that I don’t hear it nearly as much as his I think we should hear a bit a lot of engineers out there cut their teeth on on MacGyver at a young age, not just Legos, but but MacGyver as well. So you went to the Colorado School of Mines. And I’ve heard a lot of good things about this place. What can you tell me about the Colorado School of Mines as an engineering university?
Ian McEachern 02:26
Sure, I can say it’s really engineering focused. And and they bring in a lot of faculty that were, you know, actually practicing engineers in their careers. And not necessarily your typical PhD, but folks have been out in the industry for quite a few years. And then they bring them back as adjunct faculty to teach. And there were a lot of things in my education, that I only realized years later in my profession, that’s, oh, that’s why they taught me that. That’s why they were so adamant about that, that kind of thing. And so I think it’s a very pragmatic education, but also very difficult. There’s a lot of coursework and a lot of credits you need to graduate. And so I usually say that it makes it or the the way, the rigor of the program, and everything makes it so you just really have to want to be an engineer to graduate. And so I think that kind of self selects folks that would if you if you ended up graduating from there means you really wanted
Aaron Moncur 03:24
all of the classes or wieder classes? Exactly. Can you think of any specific examples, you mentioned that years later, you might have had an epiphany or a realization, that’s why they taught me this thing, or that’s why they wanted me to understand this thing. Can you think of any specific examples of those?
Ian McEachern 03:44
Absolutely, yeah, there was a robotics class that I took. And in a robotics class, we did a whole bunch of different things. But one of the interesting things was they had a large industrial robot arm with a welding head on it like a MIG welder. And there were a lot of questions and a lot of coursework around making that thing work in the in the kinematics, specifically. And at the time, we were doing all this matrix math to figure out where the end effector of this seven axis robot arm is, as in relation to each axis, or each joint location and angle and, and all that. And at the time, it just seemed like why would I ever want to do this. And then in my, in my career was I got into robotics and automation. I use it all the time. And it’s one of the fundamental things that’s a part of your control loop, even if your servo and over around position, and then you want to be make full use of your entire robotic axes of motion. And so it ends up being a fundamental thing that’s really, really helpful to understand why it works and how it works.
Aaron Moncur 04:41
That’s a wonderful example. And that might be an answer to one of the answers to the next question I’m going to ask you, which is having professors at your university who were themselves practicing engineers, how do you think that influenced the curriculum?
Ian McEachern 05:00
quite a bit. And a lot of the, we even had a program called epics, which was structured almost like the bid cycle you have in a lot of engineering service companies where somebody would come to the program a lot of times outside of the university and say that I have a problem, I would like to a student group to solve. And this was actually a requirement of graduating, right, it was a class we had to take. And then you would have a small interdisciplinary group of students, mechanical, electrical, and a lot of times software and some other folks and you would work together to create what is essentially a bid. And in a program to figure out how to solve that engineering problem, you would work with the client to get them bought into it, and then build a program, build a schedule around that and go do that work, and then create a proof of concept prototype at the end that you then deliver to the client or the customer. And it’s interesting that a lot of the projects were in the gamut, because school minds is it’s not just mechanical, electrical engineering, it goes across the board to geophysics mining, petroleum engineering. And so there were projects that were really interesting. And one of the projects I ended up doing was the Coors Brewery nearby, where they they had a certain amount of alcohol through their brewing process that just disappeared. And they didn’t know where it went. And so we worked with them very closely toured the entire plant, and went into the brewery and put in actual sensors along with key points in the in the brewing process that we thought might give us some more information, analyzed all that data, and then provided them an answer at the end of the semester.
Aaron Moncur 06:28
That’s awesome. What a cool experience that must have been as a student, especially to have the opportunity to go through all of those different steps along the progress. The along the project, especially the quoting step. That’s really interesting. I Yeah, I’ve heard about universities that that will have, you know, some hands on academics curriculum, but I don’t think I’ve heard of a class where the students got an opportunity to quote something, what a great idea for a university to do.
Ian McEachern 06:56
And it really introduces you to the business of doing engineering. Right,
Aaron Moncur 06:59
right. Yeah. Yeah. Because we can’t just build things all day. Just for fun there. There has to be some revenue attached to it at the end of it.
Ian McEachern 07:09
Yeah. Unfortunately. We wish we could. Yeah, right. Yeah.
Aaron Moncur 07:13
Unless you’re the hack Smith, who who just gets to do cool things all the time without worrying about budget? Yeah, he does. Yeah. All right. Well, you’ve designed things that are in Times Square, the Disney parks and the Smithsonian, can you tell us what are some of those items? And how did you get the opportunity to design for these these world recognized organizations?
Ian McEachern 07:37
Sure. So I’ll start with the first one on your list Time Square, I worked was working for a audio video design and build company based out of Colorado. And basically they work for like AV installers, and home theater installers and people that put big home theaters on yachts and in conference rooms. And they got their start, actually, the founder of the company was working as a contractor for the US government at NORAD, on Colorado Springs, Cheyenne Mountain. And they have a big Situation Room. And it’s a lot like in that movie WarGames, where there’s a big projector on the wall. And it shows like The nuclear missiles coming from Russia to attack the US and they had a back this was back quite a few years ago, where they had very specific projectors. And projectors were really expensive hanging from the ceiling. And they had a requirement that they needed to be able to change the bulbs and the projector in less time than it takes took a nuclear missile to launch from from Russia and come to the US. And so they the owner of the company came up with this projector lift that lowered the projector down from the ceiling. And now these are common products that you can buy on like Monoprice and things like that. But he invented that and then parlayed it into an into a whole whole company that built products like that, like AV accessories and okay, and things like that. And so anyway, they did a lot of work with things like the Disney parks and then also some Musa which is a company in Times Square. And what’s interesting about this business is they call it the street furniture business. So if you walk around to any kind of a newsstand or a phone booth, or newspaper receptacle, there’s ads on them, right? And those those companies provide things like bus stops, those companies provide all of that for free to the city in exchange for the ad revenue. And so companies go in and they just give the city all new bus stops 250 bus stops and then they just collect the ad revenue from that. Well, in New York City, we have those newsstands right where the Newsies sell their, their their newspapers and packs of gum and stuff in in Times Square. And so they have a big poster on the back. That’s typically like movie posters. And they have people go out and change out these posters every week. And this company was making so much from the ad revenue. And this was again quite a few years ago, when LCD TVs just came out that they wanted to replace the entire posters on these things with giant video wall LCD displays. And the challenge Even today is that outdoors. LCD displays are really not very bright. Because through the LCD process, you’re only actually letting through about 20% of the light you produce initially. And so even at the at the time, the best tvs you could get really weren’t able to be seen and direct daylight. And then also you have a cooling problem where you have to cool the whole system. And so we basically took brand new 65 inch LCD panels, and took out the LCD panel and a couple of the filters behind it and threw away everything else. So at the time, they had those CCFL backlights before LED backlight and we just threw all that in the trash. And we built our own LED backlight. And it was a three quarter of an inch solid aluminum plate behind the TV with 2000 Golden watt Golden Dragon two LEDs that are three watts each. And we took so much power that we just rectified to 20 and directly drove the the LEDs in series from 220. Direct from the AC line, we just rectified it. And so yeah, I mean, you you needed welding glasses when you would turn these things on Wow. And then and then the heat that generated was just unreal, because you can imagine it’s just this giant aluminum plate getting really hot. And we machined fins into it and did a whole bunch of thermal analysis. So we ended up having to create. The other thing is that all of the there was a depth thing where there the whole thing could only be six inches deep, because that’s how much room we had from the existing poster boxes. And so we couldn’t find any off the shelf air conditioners that were we needed about 20,000 feet to use a cooling per LED panel. And so there weren’t any off the shelf air, there’s no 20,000 BTU air conditioner, that’s six inches thin, right. And so we ended up designing all the air and building the all these air conditioner modules ourselves. And they were all modular, so you could slide in for 5000 BTU air conditioner modules and swap them out as they needed to be replaced. And the limiting factor was the compressor. So in any air conditioner system, you have a compressor, right. And they typically have like triangle feet on the bottom. And we had to cut off the bottom feet because that was too wide. But the compressor itself was about five and three quarter inch diameter. And that was the limiting factor. So we basically just bought the biggest compressor we could fit, and then designed air conditioners around that. And so they installed those in at least half a dozen of the really high income producing new stands in New York City when I was there, and it was a pretty cool project to be involved with.
Aaron Moncur 12:40
That’s incredible. Wow, okay, listening to you talk. You are a true engineer. I mean, the quintessential engineer, this is what the School of Mines produces. I will never ever be the caliber of engineer that you are I can already tell by talking with you for like five minutes, which is fine. That’s not what I’m trying to be. But you are, I can already tell just an incredible engineer. We work You’re welcome. You’re very welcome. I am I’m very what’s the word I’m looking for? Just impressed with your depth of knowledge, the fact that you were able to spew out all those terms seamlessly without any pause just tells me how ingrained engineering fundamentals are in your brain, which is very, very impressive. And when when when you work on projects with others, do you find that you might have to? You’re probably a very humble person. And this might be hard for you to answer. But do you find that it gets frustrating if you have to work with with teams who maybe aren’t quite as fast as you when it comes to engineering and development? And how do you deal with those situations?
Ian McEachern 13:53
It’s a great question. It could because it is a dynamic because oftentimes passion can be conflated or confused for what what you’re talking about. The reason that I, you know, am able to talk about these things is because I, I lived it and I failed. And we built 10 things that didn’t work. And then I was down on the production floor with it with a jigsaw cutting out holes because I screwed up my design. And so really, I think that it just comes with experience, I suppose. And I fully recognize that like, like, there are everything that I’ve learned where I’m at today, I learned from others. And I learned by failure. And I learned by doing that, and I really tried to stay focused on the process. And so I don’t I don’t, it doesn’t really come up much because I recognize that we others have to go through that process as well. And we all have to go through that process and the design process itself is filled with failure. Right in the beginning of the design process. You might come up with six ideas and five of them are terrible. And that’s that’s part of the process and part of accepting it. What I try to do typically when I interact with others, especially in that kind of situation where, you know, maybe they’re a little less less experienced or maybe a little bit insecure about about the situation, you can kind of tell, I try to just empower them and make sure that they feel comfortable and ready for failure, right, and really say, Hey, we’re next next week, we’re gonna try this thing, and it might break. And it’s okay. Like, the big the most important thing is we tried our hardest, and we brought our a game to it. And if we did that, then failures perfectly fine, because that’s how we get there. And so that’s very much my attitude. And I really try to convey that to others when I work with them.
Aaron Moncur 15:35
That’s awesome. Do you enjoy mentoring other engineers?
Ian McEachern 15:39
Absolutely. For me, one of my good buddies put it best when he and I worked together at a robotics company. And we would do build these big robotic systems that needed to be ultra precise. And we had these laser interferometers that even if you breathed on it, it would fail your test, right? Because it’s so accurate. And or even, you know, the train would come by every day at one and you had to stop testing because the trains coming by a half a mile away. And so anyway, he would have these these, you sit in a room and you start to test and you couldn’t leave the room, because that would ruin the test. And so you’re sitting there all day, and you’re adjusting things and you’re getting it just try doing all your Senate system integration. And then finally, after a whole bunch of work, maybe a week worth of work, it just pops up on the screen pass. And then and then my buddies like you and you just stand up and you cheer. And you look around and nobody cares. It’s this huge triumph for you. And you’ve worked so hard. And nobody, nobody even understands the triumph, right? Like people could pretend to care, but they really don’t, because they can’t because they didn’t go through the journey with you. And so for me, that’s the best part is sharing that journey. And so getting to that point and putting your arms up and then looking around, and there’s other people with their arms in there. There’s nothing better than that.
Aaron Moncur 16:48
Oh, what a great feeling. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, see, you worked at another place called Oregon heart, which was a startup where you were working on the development of an artificial heart. I’m guessing I could be wrong here. I’m guessing that you probably at least are aware of a company called SynCardia. Yeah. Okay. So they’re in our backyard of Tucson. We’re just we’re here in Phoenix. Yeah. Was Was Oregon hard a competitor of SynCardia. What was different about it, if anything?
Ian McEachern 17:19
Yeah, absolutely. So SynCardia goes way back and kind of started with some technology that another person I worked for Dr. Robert Jarvik started at the University of Utah. And SynCardia is kind of a progression of that. And SynCardia is very much a wonderful thing, it provides a lot of great benefit. And it’s really the only name name in town. At the moment, as far as a total artificial heart replacement, especially, that’s actually, you know, cleared by the FDA and everything that’s entirely pulsatile. And is is basically has membranes that did you implant in in the body, and then you have tubes that come out, and then you have an external pneumatic driver, that’s an air compressor, and then essentially sends pressure waves of air into the body that move a membrane back and forth. And that coupled with valves pump the blood, so it’s a lot like a billows kind of thing. And that technology is very, it’s very robust. It’s very proven, and it’s been around a long time. But it’s also really cumbersome, there isn’t really a great portable option. And there’s really a lot of room for improvement. And so, the Oregon heart is a lot like the other LVAD side that I’ve worked on, where it’s a continuous flow pump. So it’s essentially an impeller, a propeller of sorts, that spins at a high rpm, and is much, much smaller, much, much more implantable. And you have a much smaller battery pack and external driver and everything. So really, it’s kind of the next progression of that kind of technology.
Aaron Moncur 18:45
Got it? Okay. And I understand that you and your team were able to produce a functional prototype within a year, which is really impressive. What What kind of prototyping technologies did you all utilize to to produce this functional prototype within a year so quickly?
Ian McEachern 19:02
That’s an awesome question. So we, when I started it, we call it the napkins CAD state napkin CAD step where Dr. Wampler who who founded the company had a patent. And he had a basic idea of how we wanted it to work. And it was based off of some hydraulic pumps for the hydraulic system, world like, you know, big excavators and things like that. And so we and then it had some basic kind of proof of concepts and some 3d models that you could show investors, but nothing that really work. And so I was hired to figure out can we make this thing work? How does this happen? And just a little bit more detail about the pump, we essentially have a rotating rotor. That’s a centrifugal pump that rotates within the blood and is hydrodynamic and so there are no no bearings, so to speak, it just spins and there’s a fluid film of blood that flows around the entire thing. And that’s pretty common in the LVAD world, and that’s just a single pump. The human heart is actually two pumps, the left side and the right side of the heart, the right side pumps without the lungs, the left side pumps to the rest of the body. And so you have two very different sizes of pumps very different requirements of pumps. Dr. Wampler, his fundamental idea is that you would take this propeller, this impeller, and you would shuttle one impeller between two volumes of a pump. So it pumped into the left side for a little bit, and then it pumped into the right side. And the benefit of that is you take what are used to be two pumps, and you basically make it much, much smaller, much, much more efficient. And the the fundamental challenge with that, though, is is so you have like C CFD, fluid design software that’ll help you design turbos and jet engines and all this. And we’ll use that software things you say, helped me, you know, design me a pump with the correct blades and the correct geometry and the volume and everything for this flow regime, which is 200 millimeters of mercury and six liters a minute. And then also, I need, I need that pump to also work at a quarter of that pressure, same flow rate. And those are two fundamentally different designs of pumps, right. And so we couldn’t do that. So we worked through the entire process and ended up having different volume designs, same blade design. And then I came up with this control scheme, where we essentially feathered how the time that it dwells in each of those places, so that you would essentially almost like PWM, where you would if you wanted more flow in one side, you’d spend more time on that side, and you fed that. And so back to your actual question. The challenge is, how do you prove that? How do you how do you make that work and prove to people that that’s what we should do and move forward. And, you know, years ago, you would design a bunch of stuff in machine it and then test it in this have this huge long cycle? Well, we brought a couple in house 3d printers into the into the place and we started just 3d printing designs. And then we would test them on this test bench where it was just a mock loop where we would circle circulate glycerin, water. And when we first hooked it up, we had I affectionately called it the octopus, and there was just tubes everywhere. And they’re all just moving around like crazy. It was like out of a Hollywood movie, because our test setup had so much variability and so much compliance, where we would never be able to truly actually measure our product very well. So I took that weekend and over, I’m not even kidding. over about three days, I designed an entire automated test setup. So it was basically like a dynamometer for the pump. So we would we would have the artificial heart and we put it on our on our dyno. And it had pinch valves and automated valves and flow testing and also pressure sensors, and it was hooked up to LabVIEW. And so you just put on the pump and you push go and then six hours later you come back and you have your flow curve, which is called the HQ curve. And that gives us that answer. And so what what that is, is that’s infrastructure that’s designed infrastructure. So rather than pay somebody all day to do those tests, now we freed up that person. And so then we built in a process where every week, we would come up with a new pump design, we would 3d printed, we’d glue it all together and assemble it. And then we put it on this dyno and we’d push test and then it would give us another graph. And then we would add that to a database in MATLAB, that would stack up all these graphs over time. And so we could pull out the comparison and the delta between each of these different designs, and put it up on a projector and just actually look and say, Let’s see design 36 versus 965. And you put them all up there. And you could, you could almost chart the path of where you want to go like you knew where you were at, and you knew where you’d wanted to go. And you just kept going in the direction that led you there. And the I think the real innovation there is is hacking the process by which you do that, like puts put infrastructure in place for you to be able to do the design and development faster. And traditionally, the there’s also they do a lot of CFD work like computational fluid dynamics simulations with this kind of stuff. And the the selling point of all that is it’s faster and easier and cheaper. And what’s so funny is we were working with one of the preeminent CFD experts in the world for blood pumps. And he had about a one to two week cycle where we would send him a design, and then he’d fire up his supercomputers and they do their thing. And then a week later, we’d get an answer. And we could do it faster. And so now it’s real data in the real world. And we’re doing it faster and cheaper. Right. And and that that there were quite a few innovations that allowed that to happen, 3d printing getting really good. And then a lot of the other kind of tricks that we do with 3d printing, right, and kind of making things and casting things and just kind of little, you know, production hacks to make parts ourselves. And if you put all that together and are able to iterate on your design that much quicker, it changes the whole world.
Aaron Moncur 24:33
Really. That’s amazing. That is so impressive. Well, I’m going to take a very quick short break here and share with the listeners that Team pipeline.us is where you can learn more about how we develop or help medical device and other product engineering or manufacturing teams develop turnkey equipment, custom fixtures and automated machines to characterize inspect, assemble, manufacture and perform the verification testing on your devices. Now I’m going to To you and talk about this test fixture that you developed over the weekend. And I’m thinking to myself, Okay, mental note, do not introduce Ian to any of our customers, because he will run us out of business all by himself. How are you able to be so productive? I mean, putting together a test rig like that over the weekend, first of all, most engineers that at no fault of their own, don’t want to spend their weekend designing something like that. They want to go, you know, hang out, spend time with friends, whatever. But you took this weekend, and you took it upon yourself to develop this entire test rig over the weekend. What was your mindset? Like during that time? What What made you think yourself? I’m just going to knock this out? Yeah, maybe I could do it next week. But I’m going to take the weekend. And I’m going to figure this out. And come Monday, Tuesday, I’m going to have something ready to go.
Ian McEachern 25:45
I don’t I don’t know if this reflects poorly on me or not. But it was because my boss was out of town. And I knew he wouldn’t want me to do it. So I just did it. And then a lot of times, it’s easier to ask for forgiveness and say, Look at this thing. It solves the problem, as opposed to say, let me do this for a week. And I promise you, it’ll solve the problem. Those are very different conversations. And in this time, it was one of those times where it was it was time to kind of make it make it happen or not.
Aaron Moncur 26:08
So yeah, that’s awesome. All right. Um, let’s see. I’m curious to hear a little bit more about how you work now. So we were talking about when you were working for this company, Oregon heart but right now you you have your own business, you I guess your do your freelance or is it a business with you have multiple employees in contractors? Or is it is it just you how are you working nowadays?
Ian McEachern 26:33
Yeah, I have my own business called nerdy in. And basically, in a lot of ways, I’m a one man band, most of what I do, and most of my business relationships are with other consulting firms and kind of groups of freelancers, where typically, they are very strong in the software side. And they’ll have a product that has a real strong heavy software component, that also has some hardware component to it. And they need those to to talk and interface well. And that that ends up being a lot of the work that I do are kind of those those those mechanical or hardware projects where you need pretty good experience and pretty good expertise. But you also don’t need 50, drafters and engineers to do all the work. Right. And yeah, and so typically also pretty tight integration with software and systems, you know, you know, electrical systems and things like that.
Aaron Moncur 27:25
What do you consider your forte these days? Is it is it mostly mechanical design? Or is it on the electrical end as well?
Ian McEachern 27:32
Really, I’m at my core, I’m an old school mechanical engineer like there’s, there’s nothing that makes me happier than a fly ball Governor like a weird old mechanical, mechanical mechanism. And but recognizing that as our world progresses, a lot of times we replace complicated mechanical stuff with electronics or software nowadays. And so really, I think that that’s where my, my, my true kind of like little kid passion lies is with nitty gritty mechanical design. But that being said, where I add the most value, typically on a lot of these projects, is that cross disciplinary architecture kind of thinking phase where you’re really trying to figure out, okay, there’s six different ways we can solve this problem, we can divvy it up these different ways, how much of it do we do in software? How much do we filter out in hardware? How, how much data do we keep, you know, all these kinds of like architectural decisions. And then also, early on with the medical device industry, especially, it’s a highly regulated industry, there are a lot of standards, a lot of regulations you need to meet. And a lot of times those, the, the way that you adhere to those needs to be baked into the design from early on. And that’s a little a big pitfall that a lot of especially folks from outside the medical industry fall into when they go making a medical device is you get to a certain point, you kind of have to redo a bunch of stuff, because it wasn’t done kind of in a way that aligns with the standards. And that’s a way that I add a lot of value, as well as kind of tried to try to hack that process and figure out how to bake all that stuff in early. So it’s a real smooth process across the finish line.
Aaron Moncur 29:02
How did you decide that you wanted to start your own company nerdy? And what was that process? Like?
Ian McEachern 29:07
Sure. Um, so my parents have owned their own jewelry store for over 35 years, and my dad was an entrepreneur, my entire life, his entire career. And so it kind of started early and young with me. I also recognize that you really need to cut your teeth in the industry and get get some sort of skill set that’s valuable to folks before you go try to sell that. And so I’m super thankful for my time in industry. But there there was a certain point where I was at Oregon hard and we were, you know, they ran out of funding and then people just started calling me to do some work on the side or hey, can you help me with this and it just ended up being kind of a natural progression for me.
Aaron Moncur 29:47
On your website, you state I am a product designer, mechanical, electrical and systems engineer, machinist, technician and tinkerer. At my core, I simply desire to design invent and build products that help to make the world a better place. listening to you speak, it’s very clear to me that you love what you do. You’re very passionate about engineering. And we talked a little bit about why did you decide to become an engineer but what do you think that passion comes from? Have you ever asked yourself? Why is it that I enjoy doing these things so much?
Ian McEachern 30:22
The firt for me, so my my grandfather, he grew up in Nebraska. But he was an Okie, he very much had that kind of okie Grapes of Wrath story where his mother died when he was young. And then his dad lost the farm and he had a bunch of siblings to take care of. And then once he took care of them to a certain age, he made his way to California because he was looking for work in the in the orchards picking fruit. And so then he came to California picked fruit in the orchards, and saw an ad in San Francisco to join the sub submarine force. And he chose to be a submariner because they paid the best. And, and so he joined the US Navy as a submariner just before World War Two. He was then stationed at Pearl Harbor when the Pearl Harbor attack happened. He was part of the Pacific Theater. And then he was also part of the occupation of Japan after after the war. And growing up with him. I spent a lot of time with him. And one of my one of my good memories of him is on his back, he had like a back porch that was covered back porch, and my grandma got progressively more ill and wasn’t able to go up and down stairs to their TV room in the basement. So he enclosed the porch, so that they could sit and watch TV together in the evenings. And I was helping my grandpa and close the porch. And he had one of those three volt cordless drill things like a like a Black and Decker $20 cordless, not a cordless drill, but a cordless screwdriver. If you remember those things, it’s not drill shaped, shaped like a screwdriver. And he had me put the siding on that entire side of the house, and wood screws drilled into wood with just this electric screwdriver, and it would run out of batteries after 20 minutes. And then you’d just be sitting there using it as a screwdriver screwing it in. And I just remember that that’s the kind of person he was right. Like he would just get it done with what he had. Right. And anyway, Fast Fast forwarding, I was really really fortunate to do well in high school get accepted at the School of Mines and, and my parents were able to take care of my education for me. And I really never lost sight of the fact of how privileged I was to be able to have that happen. And my grandfather started with essentially nothing. I apologize. I missed part of the story. So after the after the war, he went and worked for Martin Marietta in Colorado, and then eventually worked for Lockheed. And Martin as part of the Apollo and Mercury programs movement moved his family to Florida and my my mom remembers watching Apollo 11 takeoff from the back of their station wagon. And then when my grandmother was was passing, she was on her deathbed. I spoke to her a little bit about it. And I said is it really true that you saw the the moonshot take off. And then and she was kind of, you know, in the grips of dementia at the time, but she instantly woke up, her eyes lit up, she looked me in the face. And she says it still makes my hair tingle. Wow, it was the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen. And so for my grandfather to go from seemingly really dire circumstances, both, you know, as he was growing up, but then also in the war. I mean, he obviously saw a lot of pretty awful things and did not convey any of that to me, right? Like he anytime that anybody was negative in any way, especially to like the Japanese folks, he would instantly cut that off. And he you know, he she learned the language he shared with us how to eat with chopsticks, like he was just very, very. And he could have done a completely different, gone a completely different direction with that is what I’m going with. And then what I’m what I’m getting out in the end is is he started with nothing. And he was able to move through the ranks and become an engineer at Martin Marietta, and then be part of the Apollo moonshot, which is the most amazing thing. And I still have an immense amount of pride that someone in my family was a part of that right. And for me to be able to say that, you know, I have all these kind of, you know, the upbringing that I did. And then I had my college paid for me and now I have an engineering degree when I’m the age that I am. If I didn’t do anything meaningful with that, I just really, I don’t feel, you know, not that he’s around anymore, but I don’t feel like I could look him in the eye. Right. So I’m just I hope that answers the question.
Aaron Moncur 34:38
That is an incredibly powerful story. What a wonderful man your grandfather was, thank you for sharing that. I I feel tingles just I mean, listening to that story. What that’s that’s really a very powerful story. One of one of the more interesting almost sounds flippant, but one of the more interesting stories I’ve heard about where this engineering pattern comes from from an engineer. So thank you again for, for sharing such a personal story. Any advice for engineers who are interested in going off and doing freelancing on their own kind of like you’ve done?
Ian McEachern 35:15
Sure, I can kind of tell my story. So I knew I, you know, I had people that wanted to me to do work for them. And I didn’t really know how to build a business or anything. So I threw a couple of like local incubators, business incubators, like Small Business Administration stuff, I found a lawyer, and I bought an hour of his time, like a business lawyer, and I said, Well, I want to start a business, what is what is this entail? What do I need to do. And then he gave me kind of a list of things that I needed to do. And then a recommendation for an accountant who’s still my accountant to this day. And then I went in and did those various things. I, you know, I’m originally from Colorado, my family’s still there. And it’s much easier to incorporate a business in Colorado than California. So I ended up incorporating my business in Colorado. And to this day, I’m a foreign entity doing business in California, as a Colorado business. In California, there’s, you know, maybe $1,000, in fees and some forms you have to fill out and things like that in Colorado, it’s like $30, in one four mile. And so it depends on the state you’re in. But I would just recommend, you know, finding a few experts that you trust, and then buying a little bit of their time and then doing that. And then the other really interesting thing is there’s a lot of great infrastructure in place. Now for small businesses. For my bookkeeping, and kind of the heart of my business, I use a program called FreshBooks, which is really great for folks that sell their time. It’s basically time tracking, invoicing. And, and a lot of the you know, kind of the accounting piece of it, I find it much better than than things like QuickBooks for people that sell their time. And then there are platforms like gussto, for your payroll, and everything that make all of that a lot easier. And so a lot of the kind of scary stuff, they used to be pretty tough. And I remember my dad stressing about sitting down with a checkbook and writing out all the payroll checks for the week or whatever. It’s all done in a few clicks. Now, if you find those resources, what I would encourage folks to do is find those partners find those business lawyers or accountants that really are geared towards small business. And then also make sure to find ones that are not afraid of kind of this new technology and the progressiveness of using things like gussto or fresh books. And in that process.
Aaron Moncur 37:29
I was thinking the same thing that there’s so many tools nowadays that makes business so much easier, almost to the point that if I were to start a business 20 years ago, with all these conveniences, I might not even want to do it. It was just too much of a hassle too much headache. Another question that came to mind as you were talking about Fresh Books, and had been a great application for folks who, who sell hours. I’m curious to hear your take on fixed price versus time and materials, quoting on projects? Do you have a it sounds like you sell hours? So it’s probably mostly time and materials. But do you have a strong preference for for one or the other or just any, any philosophy in general behind those two approaches to quoting projects?
Ian McEachern 38:14
Absolutely. I think it there are different projects that are best for different things. So a lot of the stuff that I do is very early advising kind of stuff, where it’s, it’d be very difficult to write a fixed budget for the work, it’s really kind of helping people figure out what their business plan is, how to get through the process, how to connect them with the correct people in order to get the thing made, and come up with a design that works and meets cost targets. And it’s really hard to book any of that kind of stuff and kind of say, This is what it’ll be, because a lot of what I do is so cross functional. And so kind of product focused, if there’s like a chunk of it to say like, Oh, I’ll do the industrial design. And I’ll give you three concepts, that that’s much easier to book and and that’s that kind of stuff really works well for fixed rate. And then there’s also a lot of kind of more on the back end, like I’ve done a lot of automation stuff where you go into like a, a bread factory, and they need a whole automation equipment to bake their bread. And that’s also you end up doing a lot of work on the front end. But that’s also pretty straightforward to quote because you know how many linear feet of conveyor you need. And you know which thermal cameras you need and what controls you need. And you can just add all that up plus some some hourly rate and come up with something clever there. But I, most of the work I do, it’s really, really hard to book end and do on a fixed rate basis. Yeah,
Aaron Moncur 39:37
that makes sense. We find the same thing to be true. If it’s a very r&d intensive project, it’s really hard to say it’s going to be X amount of dollars. But if the project is very well defined, there’s a clear scope of work then it becomes a lot easier. I’m glad that you mentioned Fresh Books not because I want to talk about Fresh Books is Fresh Books. Am I saying that right? Yeah, I know. I’ve heard of it before. Anyway. You mentioned it being a tool, a good tool, what is what is one of your favorite engineering tools? And what is one engineering tool that you wish you had, that just doesn’t exist.
Ian McEachern 40:15
I mean, my favorite tools are SolidWorks, a 3d printer and, you know, Raspberry Pi’s and Arduino has to be perfectly honest, I think the if the world let me I just sit in SolidWorks, designing cool stuff all day, I really do enjoy that. And then something that I wished existed, I want, I still want 3d printers that are better. I want I want 3d printers that are more like production materials, I want 3d printers that need less feeding and care. And, and I want and I want 3d printers that more material options. And I recognize that there are there are fundamental challenge challenges there. But the the change that 3d printing has brought to even just in my career has brought to the process is is really is huge. And it and if we were able to kind of go to the next level with that, and really get like things like printed circuit board, 3d printing, all these kinds of things kind of kind of dialed in and to the next level, I think it would only further improve it because that that a lot of times that’s still kind of the the speed limiting factor is getting boards in or getting parts in or like even even today, there’s this little thing I want to I want to glue something on this other thing and I’m cutting up pieces of plastic to glue on it when, you know if I had exactly what I wanted really quick without having to change filament and without having to do all these other things. It would, it would change a lot for me.
Aaron Moncur 41:50
Alright, I’ve got one more question for you What is one of the best ways that you have found to, to learn to become and also to learn to advance as an engineer.
Ian McEachern 42:03
I YouTube honestly has really helped me on a quite a few occasions, and sometimes where I’ve been frustrated in my career, not really sure what to do. And I really encourage folks to just learn things, even if it doesn’t apply to the project you’re doing. Even if it doesn’t, like bring you an instant return. Just seek out information, learn about the Norden bombsight, learn about the Manhattan Project, learn about Apollo, I have, you know, probably a dozen different books about Apollo and all the details of how they did the systems engineering and all the decisions that went into it. And, and I really just encourage people to dig into things you’re passionate about, even even if it doesn’t, you know, give you a direct gain on the project you’re on now, just that thinking and kind of looking back on how people did things and, and really, there’s a lot of really great YouTube channels now that have a lot of really great like engineering history, and technical history kind of information. That is it’s kind of what the Discovery Channel and History Channel used to be 20 years ago.
Aaron Moncur 43:04
That’s really great advice. I also love you too. And I think we’re gonna wrap it up here before we do. Is there anything else that we should talk about that we haven’t hit on yet?
Ian McEachern 43:17
Um, I just the one thing that I would encourage folks to look into are, again, like history of engineering and really start to research and understand the process of doing engineering. And so there’s a great Russian problem solving method called trees GRI Z. That’s super interesting, and has a lot of really great ideas that a lot of us just kind of do innately anyway, but it actually codifies it and makes it you know, it probably will give you some new ideas when you’re stuck. And then also, Dieter ROMs, is almost my he’s my hero. And and especially in in modern design, we start to think about folks like Johnny Ives, and these other IDEO and these places like that. And really all that started with Dieter ROMs. And so if you dive into the bronze stuff, and Dieter ROMs, and the history of his work, it’s really inspiring. It’s really cool stuff. And then also way ahead of its time. And then also one of the things that I’ve really learned a lot from is Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. And I know it’s kind of cliche to talk about that, especially in the business side. But on the engineering side, and the infrastructure of doing work of doing engineering of manufacturing. There’s so many great little nuggets in there that really applied to this world as well.
Aaron Moncur 44:26
Great recommendations. Thank you so much for all of that. Well, he and this has been awesome, what a treat. It’s been to talk to you and get to know you a little bit and hear your story. Thank you again for for sharing all of this, and I’m just so appreciative and grateful for your time today.
Ian McEachern 44:40
Thank you so much. Likewise.
Aaron Moncur 44:46
I’m Aaron Moncur, founder of pipeline design and engineering. If you liked what you heard today, please share the episode to learn how your team can leverage our team’s expertise developing turnkey equipment, custom pictures and automated machines and with product design, visit us at Team pipeline.us. Thanks for listening
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