Solid Engineering & Design
Serves Up Advanced Computerized Mechanical Engineering
By Andrea Dace
"It started from sketches on notebook paper," recalls Gavin Rumble, owner of Solid Engineering & Design, a mechanical engineering consulting firm in Lexington, North Carolina. "We took the client the whole way up to 3-D solid models, revision control, part numbers, and work orders," Rumble continues. He describes this as the first large contract his company won after opening its doors and dubs it their "go-ahead" project. With four such full-implementation jobs now under its belt, the firm has come a long way since then and has proven a survivor.
When Rumble started Solid Engineering in 1997, computer-aided drafting (CAD) systems had been available for several years. However, while the majority of work was still being done in 2-D and from blueprints, Rumble looked ahead and saw the need for engineering design services through more-advanced software such as Pro/Engineer, Pro/Mechanica, and AutoCAD.
As engineers know, most engineering design work is done electronically today. With advanced software platforms, designers can run limitless virtual tests on computerized 3-D models and transmit drawings lightning fast directly to clients using computer-aided manufacturing. They can even turn the project's image- and photo-rendered data into marketing materials for the resulting commercial products.
Unlike most mechanical engineering consulting firms that design plumbing and HVAC systems for buildings, Solid Engineering specializes in industrial equipment and machine design. By virtue of the Internet, the firm has cultivated an extensive reach, as it has its own server and a web presence. Designers at Solid Engineering can upload drawings that customers can download immediately. Rumble describes a recent assignment where the European partner of a U.S. customer learned of Solid Engineering’s capabilities. The partner had some equipment in Belgium that was failing. He took pictures of the part and sent the information to Solid Engineering electronically. The next day, Rumble says he ran a physical analysis of the part he had modeled on the computer, without yet receiving the actual part.
In reflecting, Rumble says he always knew he would have his own business, he just didn’t know what kind. After getting his BSME from North Carolina State in 1987 and a license to practice engineering in North Carolina in 1992, he found himself designing for a textile machinery company. The company used rudimentary 2-D CAD and assigned Rumble the project of upgrading to advanced CAD workstations. At the time, such systems cost about $30,000 each with full suites of 3-D modeling software. While costly, Rumble recalls that each system was quickly and efficiently absorbed into the workflow. The company added another and another, eventually installing ten systems.
That’s when Rumble decided to branch out on his own. "I noticed how this small company benefited from the investment in 3-D technology," Rumble says. He knew others could too. Rumble opened Solid Engineering as the economy in North Carolina boomed. In the 1990s, the state was attracting new industry, and many companies were moving manufacturing there. For a new engineering services firm like Solid Engineering, there was design work for the taking, especially with the state’s abundance of textile and furniture manufacturers. By 2002 however, that dynamo ground to a halt when the shift to production overseas coincided with the U.S. recession.
Rumble says business has picked up since then because his company isn’t tied to a particular industry. "We don’t specialize in a particular process or technique. We offer our services to anybody who needs mechanical engineering, and that varies significantly. It’s been everything from dirt to doughnuts for us." Right now, Solid Engineering has a couple of steel mill equipment and power plant projects going. The company just finished engineering analysis and design work on a client’s five-car hauling trailers and is working on another full-implementation project for an institutional furniture company. Repeat business plays an important role in the marketing mix.
In describing how CAD has changed the way engineers do their work, Rumble recalls that in the old days, "you might see a few engineers hovering over and directing the work of about 20 guys sitting in rows of drafting tables. We have found, with technology the way it is, engineering doesn’t really lend itself to being split up. We all have large high-powered workstations here, so we just do it all ourselves."
According to Rumble, the hiring scenario at Solid Engineering is driven by the type and amount of business the company has at a given time. The company’s core consists of the two-person team of Rumble, principal engineer, and Mark West, a senior design engineer who joined Rumble in 2001. West, who has bachelor’s degrees in textile engineering and mechanical engineering, had spent seven years as a development engineer for an industrial machinery company. Solid Engineering also contracts up to six part-time designers who have worked for the company for years.
Although this covers their current workload, Rumble believes Solid Engineering will hire a third, degreed and licensed design engineer as the next logical step in the current economy. Rumble knows this has to be a person completely comfortable using and even exploiting the new design tools available for engineering. "We get resumes, and we can see who has embraced the technology and who hasn’t. It goes without saying, those who haven’t have never worked here." "Design Engineers must have the ability to see a problem and believe they can present a solution at the end of the day. To say, ‘Well, I don’t know. I’ve never done that before,’ doesn’t get you very far in this business. Because almost everything we do, we’ve never done before."
Andrea Dace is a freelance writer in Williamsburg, Virginia
Company: Solid Engineering & Design
Type: Mechanical engineering consulting firm specializing in industrial equipment and machine design
Location: Lexington, North Carolina
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