Mechanical Design Engineer
Juliana Anzalone’s journey into engineering began when she was a child, displaying an aptitude for taking things apart and putting them back together, along with strong math skills.
But she didn’t meet an engineer until she was in college. “I heard about engineers when I was in middle school when we were asked to think about what career might fit our interests,” she said. “I watched a film that said, ‘Do you like to take your mechanical pencil apart and put it back together — if yes, you might want to be an engineer!’ and I thought, ‘oh good,’ I wasn’t just fiddling around; I was preparing myself for work!”
Juliana earned her BSME from Lehigh University in 1995 and her MSME from Johns Hopkins University in 2003. Even so, encountering other women engineers was rare.
“When I graduated in 1995, I was one of three women in a class of 80 mechanical engineers. It was so weird. It still is weird. There simply are not many women engineers. Most managers are men; most engineers are men. Most of these men are not going out of their way to discriminate — it’s just more normal to be a white male when you’re an engineer … so anyone who’s not a white male sticks out and is asking the community to bend a little,” Anzalone said. “It’s been 23 years since I graduated and I am still all-too-often the only woman engineer in groups, webinars and conference rooms. A recent study cited that in 2011, 18% of engineering graduates are women but then when it comes to working in the field, only 11.7% stay as practicing engineers,” she said.
After graduation, Juliana spent 14 years in the mechanical design group at Northrop Grumman in Linthicum, MD. At NGC, she served as the lead mechanical engineer on several programs and earned numerous awards, including a President’s Leadership Award for her work on the SABR (Scalable Agile Bean Radar) program.
Currently, she works for a medical device company, “American IV” in Harmans, MD, that specializes in supporting old parts that Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) have dropped from their list of serviceable units. Thus, a large portion of her work involves reverse engineering. At AIV, she uses 3D printing to investigate and develop design ideas.
For example, she uses a 3D scanner and SolidWorks CAD software to develop a model for a part’s plastic cover geometry. Then, she will 3D print the part to check the fit and see if the design is good. This 3D printing verification step is fairly new to the company’s standard design process. Previously, the designers used molds to check fit, and often bought multiple molds with all the small and expensive tuning needed to get the plastic just right.
“When I started at this company, it had an Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) printer, a Stratasys Dimension 1200 SST, which was great for making fixtures for shop floor assembly. It did not, however, produce models that mimicked details that are typical in injection molding. The layers were 10-mils each (0.010 in.), which was fine for a fixture but too messy for a fit-check,” she said.
“Eventually, the printer failed and my boss asked me to help make the case for a polyjet printer. We now have a Stratasys Objet30Pro. This 3D printer is much more precise – it can emulate plastic injection molded pieces. The layer thickness is not even a real factor on the polyjet printer. It is 1-mil or 0.6-mils depending on the material and the impact is negligible.”
The polyjet 3D printer is the workhorse used to create demonstrations of final products and to quickly fabricate tools for the assembly floor.
“Being more precise means that it is more expensive to run (about 10x the FDM) but in the past three years, I think it’s been worth the effort,” Anzalone said. “The designs can be much closer to the OEM versions and I can use the extra time to make things fit better than if we were designing without the polyjet printer.”
At home, she runs an EinScan-Pro 3D scanner for fun. Using the scanner and photogrammetry, she makes digital portraits a reality with help from the full color printers at Sculpteo.com, a 3D printing service bureau.
“I joined the Baltimore MakerSpace called “OpenWorks” to get access to their digital suite of 3D printers and laser cutters — amazing stuff! It’s breathed new life in to what was a very old topic. Mechanical engineering hasn’t changed this significantly since computers were integrated,” Anzalone said.
A project Anzalone is considering is how to improve 3D printed injection-molding tools. Normally, such molds don’t hold up for many uses, typically you can use one tool 50 to 100 times—which is low-volume production. “But with the Trump-imposed 25% import tax on steel, it is possible that this method will become more popular. If it does, I’d like to work it into our process,” she said.
On the job lessons
Women engineers must often balance niceness with being taken seriously.
“My family raised me to be nice and now I find that the size of my voice can be a challenge.” Juliana discovered a design flaw early with one part and simply made a comment and documented it. But a well-timed scream would have addressed the issue early and avoided later problems. “Knowing when to ‘scream’ and when to just talk is a skill I’m still learning. I have been working in engineering for 20+ years so I should trust my judgment and yell a little more,” she said.
Accept the company learning curve
As an experienced engineer, she has had her share of navigating the corporate culture. When given a chance she will advise junior engineers.
“If your corporate management was like mine at Northrop Grumman, and you’re a young engineer, then you will probably not be allowed to fail. You will be checked and verified because everyone is seeing if you are any good. My advice is to put up with it but don’t expect it forever. At some point, if you do the simple tasks well enough, you will be granted a chance to lead a group or take on a larger design,” Anzalone said.
And expect additional evaluation. “When you lead a group, do your best and ask for help as needed. Mistakes will be made and how you handle yourself when fixing them is what everyone will remember. Nobody is perfect so don’t beat yourself up. But if given a second chance to fix a mistake, DO NOT get it wrong! Pull out all the stops to absolutely make sure it’s right and, if possible, do what you can to make sure that it won’t happen again to you or someone else.
Put down your cell phone. “You make an impression when starting out if you ask for the WIFI password on the first day. It’s not necessarily a good impression. My advice to young people is that if you can keep your phone out of your hands for the 8 hours you are at work, you will really be appreciated — and you will stand out from the crowd of kids looking for the WIFI password.
Engineering can be a great career for women. But women continue to face age-old challenges.
“It always depresses me when I meet young people who are openly anti-woman-engineer,” she said. “Yes, these people are out there. I don’t worry about the old guys. They lived for so long with women not in their workplace; I try and not let them get to me. I get annoyed when I meet someone my age or younger that suggests that women have it easy because big companies are promoting women over men now to try and catch up. I don’t see it where I work!
“If a woman is promoted beyond her skill set in an effort to even-out the playing field, then I wouldn’t want to be in her shoes. Even if everyone is on your side, it’s a set up for failure, and no company can afford that.
“It will be great when there are more women in engineering — most especially in roles of power — because using half of a population is simply inefficient. There are great minds out there ready to design and develop the next solutions to the world’s problems. It would be unfortunate for everyone if half of them don’t ever get the chance.”
Advice for upcoming engineers
Juliana says that she has learned the most from the worst managers she has worked under.
“One of my first and most powerful eye-opening experiences was when one of my first managers (who had a bad habit of promising I could do something in 4 hours when it would really take anyone 2 weeks) gave a weak presentation to a room full of peers and they tore him up! Just thinking about it gives me a shudder! I love presenting but only when I’m doing it properly prepared,” she said.
“Also, get your graduate degree started as soon as you can after completing your undergrad and getting a job. Work for a big company — somewhere with a pool of engineers for at least the first couple years. I’m now at a place where I am 50% of the engineering staff and it is fine because I have engineered myself out of corners for 20+ years and I like the challenge. I wouldn’t recommend it for juniors though; you can get a lot from being around other engineers and subject matter experts.”
Samples of Juliana’s work can be seen on her SketchFab account: https://sketchfab.com/Juliana3D
Juliana’s linkedin account: https://www.linkedin.com/in/juliana-anzalone-7357b869/