I’ve always been driven by the need to innovate at work and at home.
A holder of more than 45+ patents for interconnects, with several more pending, Ron began his TE career in 1984, as an engineer – and later as an engineering supervisor – with TE's AMP product family. Ron has deep experience in developing engineering solutions in a wide range of industries, including appliances, lighting, and building equipment. With a TE career that includes experience in project management and business development, Ron led TE's early entry in interconnects for the high-power LED lighting industry. In his current role, this Clarkson University alum leads TE's efforts to develop business opportunities in the building automation space, focusing on TE's home automation prospects. It is in this role where he leverages his engineering expertise, in ways that directly help and benefit his customers. "The process of exposing a customer to what is possible and seeing their reaction and excitement is a priceless perk of the job," Ron explains. "It is easy to come up with a single, dedicated design to solve a problem. It is much harder to come up with something that is extensible to address other similar problems in other areas. To do so requires a lot of insights into other areas and applications." Ron's commitment to new solutions for building automation has played a critical role to TE's success in this industry.
Early involvement allows TE to provide the benefit of our unique experiences and capabilities early in the design process, when it does the most good.
Which ideas in home automation will have a long-term impact on the connected home?
In order for the connected home to mature, it needs to become the “Aware Home.” It needs to dynamically sense and react to the external environment, its inhabitants, and the internal environment. Sensors and connectivity will play a key role in this. The net effect will be that current home controls will be unrecognizable in ten years. It is not that big of a stretch to envision a home without a thermostat – each room having an array of sensors providing input to an HVAC system and each room having actuators to adjust heating or cooling based on occupants and learned habits. Extending that even further, the need to have a user interface panel in the home or interface to your home with a smart phone while in the home can likewise disappear and be replaced with voice or gesture commands from any room in the house.
How can engineering teams develop feasible, innovative solutions to integrate building systems?
Engineers need to discard preconceived notions of what home automation is and think holistically. It is not just about a single product or device. Home automation application scenarios for the future need to be developed first that meet the inhabitant’s needs and then tackle identifying existing or new technologies that need to be brought to bear on addressing these. Far too often engineers and product managers start with a technology and spend countless resources figuring out what applications it might be good for rather than the other way around.
When considering possible solutions, which presumptions do you tend to challenge?
Challenge feature creep. It is always a challenge to segregate the wants from the absolute needs. Since this differentiation is closely related to manufacturing and design complexity, it translates into cost and therefore price to the market. A failure to understand this difference could result in a product that is too expensive, takes too long to bring to market, too complex to manufacture, or any combination of these.
What impact does our value of co-creation have in developing new ideas, products, and solutions?
Early involvement is key to optimizing designs. Whether it is multiple customers providing feedback on their needs and wants (note the differentiation) to create a market opportunity or a specific customer developing a new product, early involvement allows TE to provide the benefit of our unique experiences and capabilities early in the design process, when it does the most good. The most difficult scenario for us is when a customer brings us a completed design and challenges us to provide something unique, creative, and cost effective, but then indicates that there is no design flexibility in their part since the design is locked down.
How do you stay current on emerging trends, technologies and priorities?
While it can be daunting giving the broad range of media available, one needs to stay current on a broad range of technologies and developments, not just those in one’s immediate field. There may be developments in other areas that are directly applicable to an area one is working in, so keeping in the loop on these developments is key. Subscribing to a broad range of periodicals, e-zines, and newsletters keeps me in the loop. Attending industry events and conferences is another important vehicle for both being exposed to new content and also networking with others in other companies and working in other areas. These discussions sometimes can yield interesting insights into products and techniques used in other non-related industries that may be directly applicable to those in which TE is engaged in.
What most interests you in working for TE?
The customer interactions that occur when you develop and present a brand new technology or product that the customer was not even aware was possible. A recent example of this is until TE introduced the first commercially available solderless holder/socket for high power LEDs, most customers assumed that they needed to hand solder wires to thermally conductive high power LEDs. Showing them a way to terminate to high power LEDs without soldering was groundbreaking for them and I take pride in the fact that we envisioned, developed, and marketed the first such product in the world. The process of exposing a customer to what is possible and seeing their reaction and excitement is a priceless perk of the job. I also like the strong focus on technological leadership in TE’s fields. It is great to see the importance TE places on intellectual property and the fact that an industry manager is encouraged to invent.
What types of engineering changes do you expect to see over the next five years?
Rapid prototyping technologies developed over the past few years are rapidly maturing beyond prototypes and into manufacturing. Designing for these new manufacturing technologies will require engineers to change their mindsets away from designing for conventional manufacturing technologies and broadening them to include the possibilities of additive manufacturing. It will be revolutionary in the same manner that Samuel Colt’s innovation to design products with interchangeable parts. This interchangeable part concept transformed an industry from a one-off design that was designed for single piece hand machining and fitting of parts to one that required a completely different design mindset. With interchangeable parts, this opened the way to design-it-once then mass-produce-it manufacturing that eventually changed the way engineers designed all products and even made Henry Ford’s automotive assembly line production possible.
What has been the most gratifying/significant lesson you have learned on a project? How did this lesson evolve?
Early in my career years ago, I was designing a new product that I wanted to get perfect. I was agonizing over some what I now see as relatively minor issues. My Engineering manager at the time, a very wise man who I learned a lot from, patiently listened to me explain the issues I had. Then, very calmly said “there comes a time in every project when you need to shoot the engineer and release the product to sell….(long pause)… I’m ready to shoot you.” We then proceeded to discuss the issues and came to the conclusion that the product was indeed ready to launch and that what I was agonizing over would have no effect on the performance, reliability, manufacturability, or customer acceptance of the product. The lesson learned is that as engineers, we sometimes need to step away from the minute details engineers love to immerse themselves into and look at the bigger picture. Sometimes the effort to get from something that is 95 percent there to 100 percent perfect is not worth the effort. The other, related lesson is that there is a lost opportunity cost to development delays that is often not realized by the engineers or their management. I’ve seen projects delayed for weeks while there are discussions and meetings over whether to spend an additional $10,000 on testing all the while we are missing or delaying a monthly revenue potential many multiples higher than that.
How has an unexpected career turn changed how you think about engineering?
About 15 years ago, after going through the engineering ranks, I stepped into a business development role. My engineering background was an immeasurable asset in dealing with customers since I was able to quickly grasp what they needed and offer a wide variety of solutions. It also provided an ideal background to translate customer needs into requirements our engineers could use to develop new products and solutions. Lastly, it provided a rather unique set of spectacles to view the market since I am able to see and understand how our customers engaged in a marketspace are doing things and from that vision and understanding, offer new and unique solutions that they never thought possible. On the flip side of this, my transition into the business world was eye-opening since in engineering, we deal in black and white, facts and numbers – on the business side, things are not as clean since there are many, many grey areas that need to be dealt with. Dealing with these grey areas took a while for me to get used to and adapt to.