Tag Archives: Featured Employee

  • Luke Mehringer: Engineering a New Career

    When Luke Mehringer joined us as a Design Engineer in July of 2018, he didn’t have to adjust his commute by very much. His old company, which engineers superabrasive finishing systems, was right down the block from our headquarters in Wheeling! During his 7-year stint there, Luke designed precision equipment capable of advanced process control, and developed and supported new manufacturing processes for cost and lead-time reduction. With a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and a certification in robotics, he was well qualified for his responsibilities and added to his knowledge with on-the-job experience.

    New Horizons with Just a Few Steps
    Luke had worked with some high-tech CAD-CAM equipment and got a taste for machining just out of college. His goal was to work for a well-run organization that made turning out quality products a priority. He found what he was looking for at SMW Autoblok.

    Up to Speed in No Time
    In his current position, his focus is on designing the top tooling for lathe jaws and documenting on the print the contact point and where the tooling is placed. He credits our training and various mentors around the shop for making his transition to the new job easier than he thought it would be. And he’s already churning out workholding designs for power transmission parts for a major manufacturer of agricultural equipment.

    Low Key Life
    Other than a reputation for having mad foosball skills, Luke says his off-the-job life is rather quiet. That description fits one of his hobbies. He enjoys making beer in his personal small batch brewery. Once mixed, it takes about up to 10 weeks for the raw mixture to ferment and age into a drinkable brew. That requires a lot of patience! His current product is a run of Hefewiezen, a classic German wheat beer.

    His appreciation of beer may also explain why his favorite travel spots in Europe are Germany and Austria, both well known for their flavorful brews. He’s been to both countries three times. Other favorite travel spots include Malaysia and the Philippines.

    Another pastime for Luke is designing digital electronics, mainly circuit boards. Whether electrical or mechanical in nature, it seems like Luke is hard-wired for engineering.

  • Brian Gabriel: A Technology Sponge and Order Facilitator

    20180504_131924Brian Gabriel didn’t plan on becoming a professional Project Manager, but right now he is glad things turned out that way. Brian received a degree in engineering from Washington State University. A love of the West Coast and the opportunity to live out there made it his top school choice. He made a lot of friends and still gets together with classmates annually. After graduation, he landed a job for an engineering test lab working with automotive products. He would take projects from front-end engineering all the way to proof of concept. After a few years, he began looking around for a new challenge and ultimately landed with us as Project Manager this past July.

    The Appeal of Project Management
    During the time with his previous employer, Brian had begun to make regular contact with customers and found that face-to-face communication had grown on him. His position here provides him with more opportunities to explore this area of business.

    He explained that his job basically involves “keeping projects moving and preventing things from falling through the cracks.” This includes being straight with the customers and getting them an answer in a timely manner, even if it’s not exactly the one they want to hear. “Be honest. Don’t dig yourself into a hole you can’t get out of,” he suggests.

    On the internal side of the situation, Brian has come to learn that his projects are not the only ones in production. Each team member in the shop has their own multiple sets of pressing deadlines that need to be met. Brian knows that a careful blend of understanding, diplomacy and persistence is needed to maintain harmony and still move products out the door. “Establishing priorities and communication are essential elements of the job,” he says.

    An Engineering Sponge
    Brian finds the workholding coming out of our operations in the US, Germany and Italy remarkable. After being immersed in the automotive industry for several years, he is enjoying the chance to see how engineering principles are applied to a whole new field. “Even though I’m not involved in the process, it adds to my database of knowledge and I’m becoming a more well-rounded engineer by soaking up as much information as I can about chucks.”

    1709A Global Family
    Brian’s previous job was at a small company, so he enjoys being part of a worldwide organization. His first trip to IMTS this September was an eye-opener, as he met SMW Autoblok employees from Germany, Italy and Japan. While the corporation is large, he finds the US headquarters to be very family friendly and has already begun to feel at home in the closely-knit community.

    Off the Job Pursuits
    A one-man film festival, Brian can be found going to the movies, watching rented movies and hanging out with his friends talking about movies.

    When not glued to the big screen, Brian loves to travel (which is made easier by having family members in the airline business). He tries to manage two trips a year, his most recent excursions to London and Columbia (where he visited family).

    His favorite place so far? Japan. He finds the people and the culture fascinating and, naturally, loves soaking up the awesome technology. He says he’d go again in a heartbeat.

  • Brandon Erath: Striving for Quality in Whatever He Does

    IMG_0006Quality Control Technician Brandon Erath joined us in January of 2018 as a utility worker. He says the company took the word “utility” to whole new levels. He worked in the shop, cut parts on the saw and deburred them, delivered finished parts to vendors and worked in quality control. The varied experiences gave him a feel for how intricate our process is and how all the departments work together to ship products out the door.

    Toward the end of his utility stint, he was spending a lot of time in quality control due to an influx of orders going through, so the department was quite busy. Brandon caught on fast and was recently promoted to his current position.

    Brandon says one of the best days on the job to date was when he looked at a blueprint and it all clicked into place. “For the first time I could understand what it said and what needed to be measured,” he said. “It was like mastering a foreign language.”

    Around the Block
    Prior to joining our team, Brandon didn’t know that a career in manufacturing was in his future. Before finding a home in our QC Department, Brandon had quite a wide and varied career path.

    While in high school and college, he traveled the country playing Call of Duty as a competitive video gamer. He even has some wins under his belt. While the tour didn’t pay the big bucks back then like it does today, it allowed him to travel the U.S. and see places he might not have ever had the chance to see. His favorite venue? Anaheim, California. Why? Disney Land!

    Paging Dr. Erath
    Brandon flirted with a career in medicine with one semester of pre-med at UIC and attaining an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) license. While he nailed the book-smarts of medicine, when it came to treating real people, he found he’s just a softie at heart and couldn’t detach emotionally.

    He did finally learn to perform surgery (of a sort) by wielding a knife as a professional butcher for a while. In this capacity, he met stars of wildly varied musical styles such as Kool and the Gang, Charlie Daniels and Smashmouth while prepping dishes at the Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin.

    Still a Game Boy
    Although he no longer competes at a professional level, Brandon is a self-proclaimed nerd and spends his free time playing video Overwatch and League of Legends with the friends he made while on tour. He even has 50-100 followers who watch him play on “Twitch,” a live streaming video platform. He’s an avid watcher as well. “Watching anyone do something they do very well is highly entertaining.”

  • Sean Borchert: Software and SAG Card Lead to a Wild Ride

    Sean_Borchet_DSC_3572 copyIf Sean Borchert, the latest addition to our engineering staff, looks familiar, it might be that you’ve seen him in the movies. No, not at the local AMC theater, but up on the big screen. In an earlier life, he appeared with A-listers such as Sigourney Weaver, Ray Liotta, Gene Hackman and Rene Russo. His movie credits include Heartbreakers, Big Trouble, The Librarians and Loving the Bad Man.

    He got involved in acting after being approached by producers while bartending in Miami. It seems he was a dead ringer for the leading man in a production being filmed nearby. It wasn’t long before he was dodging (fake) bullets and other stunts. The resemblance was so close that it’s actually Sean in some of the publicity stills, standing in while the actor was off on location. He continued working as a stunt man and soon took on acting rolls. He earned his Screen Actors Guild card, which probably makes him one of few people in the world with a SAG card and a degree in mechanical engineering.

    Heartbreakers_edited2An Engineer at Heart
    Sean has always been fascinated by engineering. In grade school, while other kids were drawing ducks and horses, he was designing racecars and rockets. This interest continued into his acting days. When not on camera, Sean was busy building websites and doing freelance projects using SOLIDWORKS software.

    He had started working with SOLIDWORKS, a 3D CAD and CAE computer program, in 2006. SOLIDWORKS appealed to him since it allowed him to be artistic and precise, appeasing his perfectionist side. His familiarity of programming allowed him to unlock SOLIDWORKS’ potential with behind-the-scenes coding. This came in handy between acting gigs. “I could get by on four hours sleep in those days,” he quipped.

    Full Time – and More
    When tax incentives drew film productions from Florida to other states, Sean decided that an engineering career would be a bit more secure. He moved back to the Chicago area and started work as a lead designer for a semiconductor company in 2012. While there, he designed semiconductor components that are still considered cutting edge today. The company was impressed enough to encourage him to go back to school and get his bachelor’s degree.

    A six-month contract with a Fortune 100 company followed, but Sean hated being a cog in an impersonal corporation. He took the opportunity to work for a small family-owned engineering and design firm. “They had a wonderful sense of hustle as they turned out great work in short time frames on limited budgets,” he said. “I loved the atmosphere.” He worked there full time for two years while continuing his education on a part time basis. He earned his degree in 2017 from Northern Illinois University.

    The Right Mix
    With his diploma in hand, Sean went looking for a challenging high tech opportunity within a family-like setting that he had come to enjoy, and soon joined our engineering team at SMW Autoblok. After just three weeks, Sean already began programming our internal SOLIDWORKS software to automate drawings and save hours of engineering time.

    “The company needs to continually develop high tech design techniques to stay competitive into the future,” he said. “I think our Engineering Department is well positioned to make sure that happens.”

    Taking a Breather
    After his eccentric lifestyle in Florida and four years of hard work and school for 80 hours a week, Sean’s next project is finding a more balanced life style. For now, he is content to enjoy his new job, watch the Syfy Channel and monitor the progress of private aerospace companies as they take their first steps into interplanetary travel.

  • Alex Jurney: Metal Man, Metal Bands and…Teletubbies?

    Alex_Jurney_DSC_3570Alex Jurney is Set Up Operator for the CNC machines in our Prototype Shop. He’s been with us for seven months…or is that how long he’s been growing his beard? It’s actually about the same for both, since his last job was for a private ambulance service. You don’t usually see facial hair like that on an EMT for a reason.

    Career Course Correction
    After concluding that the health service industry was not engaging his creative side, Alex began to think about a career in Engineering and Design. He had interned in our shop after high school and had been intrigued by the progression from design to the finished product.

    As he thought more about it and discussed his plan with others, it was suggested that a thorough understanding of the machining process would make him a better designer in the future. Alex took this advice and joined us full time to build a solid foundation of workholding fundamentals.

    Learning More Each Day
    The CNC Prototype Shop turns out a variety of jaws, grippers, part stops, locating and positioning components for our customers’ chucks. Alex finds the work interesting because every part is a “run of one,” with its own unique challenges. He admits it has been quite a learning curve, but knowing most of the guys in the shop from his internship, they are always willing to give him the benefit of their years of experience. He is learning so fast that when a new machine was brought in, he was the first to be taught how to use it, and is now training others on its capabilities.

    His favorite part of the job is taking a program or print and turning it into a functional object. Alex says the only thing better would be to design the part himself and then see it machined into reality. With that objective in mind, Alex is already attending classes for programming at a local college, and will soon take some courses in engineering. His hope is to gain enough knowledge and experience to eventually take a place in our Engineering department.

    file-1Alex’s Wide World of Free Time
    Out of the shop, Alex’s recreational activities are varied to say the least. A Blackhawks fan since high school, Alex recently began playing Left Wing in a hockey league, with games once or twice a week early in the morning or late at night. Just like machining, the learning curve has been steep, but he is learning to let his instincts take over. The team made it to the championship last year, but lost in the final game.

    When he’s not involved in a power play on the ice, Alex recently hung out with 13 ft. long sharks in Hawaii. He can’t wait to get back for more. Despite his free time activities, we are pleased to announce that Alex still has all his teeth and fingers (for now).

    About the Teletubbies… Alex has been going to metal concerts for over 12 years. One night after Halloween, he and his buddies wore their costumes to a concert as a gag and got pulled up on stage. Now, it’s become a thing. Alex is the purple one (Tinky Winky). You might laugh, but the costume has enabled him to meet a lot of bands and do things he might not otherwise have experienced. He acknowledges any ridicule he may endure is just the price of admission.

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