Why did you decide to enter the hydraulics field?
Northern Wisconsin had very few job opportunities in the early 1980s, and John Deere offered me a job upon getting an associates degree in Automotive Service. I enjoyed testing equipment after I worked on it and seeing what it could do. I have worked on engines, cylinders, pin and bushing track, rebuilds, radio-controlled units, construction equipment, logging equipment, concrete pumps, forklifts, self-propelled aerial lifts, track machines, cranes, aerial bucket trucks, and anything with wheels or tracks. The most unique piece of equipment I ever worked on was a 50-m concrete pump that had five booms with radio controls.
When did you start working on the road, and what was that experience like for you?
I started in 1986 while I was working at DUECO. Working on the road means dealing with a lot of extremes – the coldest temperature was 30 degrees below zero (70 below zero wind chill) working on a forklift; the hottest was 120 degrees in Texas working on a concrete pumper. I also worked under a track machine once fixing a pump in a 3-ft puddle. I generally drove about 300 miles a day and about 40,000 miles per year at least, if not more. The longest trip to a job driving was 400 miles one way.
What I enjoyed was and still is the challenge of fixing the trucks where they break down, and getting them back up and working wherever that might be. One example is when I had a bucket truck stuck in the air with a blown hose. The unit was on a transmission line five miles off a back road, and I had to have my service truck pulled through the right of way for the five miles. I have had to, on occasion, replace chains and cables on bucket trucks with no cranes, had to figure out ways to remove the upper boom cylinder to replace cables using leverage and blocks and tackles and jacks, and assure my safety and the equipment from being damaged. As a road technician, the one drawback I had was being away from home more than I liked while my children were growing up.
What are the biggest problems you encounter in this line of work?
Operator error, blown hoses, and safety switch malfunctions. The most complicated repairs deal with the electronics and electrical systems or the intermittent issues from contamination. One humorous example was when I had a truck that would shut off at break time every day, but because the crew needed the truck during their shift, I couldn’t work on it until afternoon. Unfortunately, I was never able to get the unit to act up when I was troubleshooting the problem. After this happened three or four times, I finally showed up right before break time. I noticed that the truck would tilt when the boom was brought down, and from the guys getting into the truck, the truck shut off. I then ohmed out a switch in the tail shelf to find water would bounce around in the switch and ground out the truck, making it shut off.
When did you decide to start your own hydraulics repair shop, and what have you learned?
I started thinking about my own shop about ten years ago, but with a young family at the time and the outlay of time and money, it was only a dream. What I have learned is because I am a one-man operation at this point, the biggest challenge is being able to do it all; from being the boss, the technician, the parts department, scheduling jobs and in charge of the administrative paperwork, it can be hard to juggle it all.
If you could change one thing about the hydraulics industry, what would it be?
Having engineers create portholes big enough for my arms! Also, making hoses that last longer by being protected from UV light and having units operate better on biodegradable oil in cold climates.
What advice do you have for individuals entering the hydraulics field?
It’s important to be careful around hydraulics under pressure and never get complacent about safety. Have a good understanding of how to read electrical and hydraulic schematics; if you can do that, you can figure out just about any problem. Know your customers on a personal level, and be honest about repairs and cost. Also, to work in the repair field, you need integrity and perseverance.
If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
I would have gone to a technical school for hydraulics/pneumatics/electrical instead of learning by trial and error. For instance, in my early career, I once tried to pull a cylinder apart and found out it would not come apart until the pressure was released.
What is one of the biggest changes you’ve seen in the industry?
In the early 1970s, radio controls were tried and they were very unreliable; with today’s new electronics and integration into hydraulics, the reliability of electronic controls and radio controls is fantastic, and so is the ability to interface with a truck’s computer to control functions remotely. Some companies have the ability to troubleshoot equipment from an office that is hundreds of miles away.
Why did you decide to take the IFPS Hydraulic Specialist Certification test?
I knew about the IFPS certification program for several years and wanted to become certified. One main reason that I wanted to be certified was that my example, as the instructor of the fluid power courses at Iowa State, would be an encouragement for my students to become certified, as well. Certification or other credentialing is important, because it demonstrates that as a professional, you have entered into a “community of practice,” and the community has formally recognized you as a competent member. Certification is part of becoming a professional.
What did the process teach you?
Whenever I have gone through any credentialing process, including IFPS certification, I have learned more clearly how the community approaches and views the technical content and the professional practice of that community.
How and why did you decide to apply for the FPEF grant?
I had been planning to move forward with IFPS certification for several years, but was not able move it to the top of my priority list. However, when I learned about the grant, I decided to take the opportunity because it provided incentive to move ahead with the process. I had also wanted to start promoting certification to the students in my fluid power courses, but thought it would be best to first go through the process so that I could better promote with the knowledge gained.
What specifically does Iowa State University offer students interested in becoming certified? Why do you feel these initiatives are so important for students and for the future of the fluid power industry?
We offer two courses at Iowa State specifically focused on fluid power. One course, Fluid Power Engineering, is offered to engineering students, and the other class, Fluid Power System Technology is taught at a technology level for our technology programs.
Both classes provide an introduction to fluid power. Students who complete these courses should be ready to proceed with the IFPS Hydraulic Specialist certification. The courses have a hands-on laboratory component in the Danfoss fluid power lab in our department. Certification testing is also now available through the Iowa State University testing center, so students can easily become certified without ever needing to leave campus.
How do you feel this certification will help you in your career as an educator?
IFPS certification will help me make a larger impact on the fluid power industry through my educational, research, and outreach programs.
Why do you feel the FPEF is important?
FPEF plays an important role in raising the visibility of fluid power industry careers to students by providing them with pathways and incentives to pursue career paths in fluid power.
Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering at Iowa State University
Since 1905, the Department of Agricultural Engineering, now the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering (ABE), has been a leader in providing engineering solutions to agricultural problems in the United States and the world. The department’s original mission was to mechanize agriculture. That mission has evolved to encompass a global view of the entire food production system—the wise management of natural resources in the production, processing, storage, handling, and use of food fiber and other biological products.* For more information, visit www.abe.iastate.edu.
* Text obtained through the college website.
How did your career with the NFPA start?
I started at NFPA in July 1984 and worked for about a year and a half writing for and editing the NFPA Reporter and other NFPA publications. Part of my job was translating French ISO documents into English for NFPA’s technical department; this was my first experience with international standards work. In December 1985, Jim Morgan, who was president of NFPA at the time, gave me the opportunity to work full time on international standards, and it turned out to be a great fit for my skill set because I have done this work for the last 28½ years.
What are some memorable moments of your career, and what did they teach you?
The moments I remember best relate to projects and more important, people. Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, we worked on a suite of hydraulic connector standards that comprehensively covered these products. Other special projects included the fluid power vocabulary (ISO 5598), pneumatic flow rating (ISO 6358 series—working on those was like a mini-course in the physics of compressed air measurement), and the systems standards (ISO 4413 and 4414) twice—in the mid-1990s and mid-2000s. These were projects that attracted great teams of people. I have to say that it has been the people that I’ve worked with over the years—committee members, others who did the same job as I did in other countries, and NFPA, ISO, and ANSI staff—that has made my career so fulfilling. I learned how to deal with people from different cultures, how to build consensus, and how to deal with conflict productively. I was able to work closely with so many great leaders and learn what matters the most: passion for the work and the team, honesty, and focus on setting and achieving goals (although I did not always succeed in putting that learning into practice—but I’ve tried).
In your experience, how has the fluid power industry grown and changed?
That’s an interesting question, because some of the fluid power industry’s challenges haven’t changed in 30 years. But the good news is that there is something about the technology and the business that continues to attract really good, creative people. Over the years, I’ve seen the industry grow in confidence and outreach, especially to younger people. I think the industry does a better job of explaining the unique benefits of fluid power and the exciting opportunities a career in fluid power can offer. In standards development, industry players have come together to provide the technical infrastructure that allows the technology to be used safely and more easily. Some of this work is in response to regulation, particularly in the European market, but much of it relates to the challenges inherent in fluid power technology: leakage, noise, system design. Standardization really does cover most of the state-of-the-art and best practices—the information is there for everyone to use.
What do you think the future has in store for fluid power?
The future of fluid power will be determined by the industry’s people and their creativity in meeting customer needs, especially in improving the energy efficiency and reliability, and reducing the environmental impact, of fluid power components and systems. Research and standardization work being done now will improve the technology and open up new fields of application.
Why do you feel ISO standards are important, and how have they influenced the fluid power industry so far?
Standards are the technical facilitators of trade and technology transfer; ISO standards perform these roles on a global scale. ISO standards make it possible
- for OEMs that manufacture and sell equipment all over the world to source standardized components locally;
- for component manufacturers, large and small, to sell their products worldwide;
- for users and manufacturers of fluid power components to benefit from economies of scale that only a global standard can provide;
- for new users of fluid power to benefit from the codification of best practices.
How will ISO standards play a role in the future of fluid power?
As I mentioned before, I expect that ISO standards will continue to be a way to share best practices with new users of fluid power, both in new applications and in developing countries.
Why would you encourage fluid power professionals to become involved with the NFPA?
Even though NFPA membership is at the corporate level, I think the major benefit for the people who are employed by our member companies is having the opportunity to network with their industry peers and to work together on projects that help the entire industry. I have seen so many people use NFPA committee work to develop their leadership and communication skills.
What is the next step for you personally and professionally?
There are some big changes ahead. Personally, I am marrying a wonderful man (Robert Mackey of Main Manufacturing Products) and moving from Milwaukee, Wis., to the Flint, Mich., area in June 2014. Professionally, I plan to start a freelance writing and standards service/consulting business after I leave NFPA.
NFPA, the fluid power industry, and international standards work have been such blessings in my life. I am grateful to have had the chance to work with so many talented co-workers and committee people from around the world and to have become great friends with many of them. I am going to miss the work but most of all the people. Thank you for this opportunity to share some thoughts with the readers of Fluid Power Journal. I wish them all the best!
Fluid Power Journal sends congratulations and best wishes to Karen on her future endeavors. Thank you for your service to the fluid power industry!
When and where did your career in fluid power begin?
My career started when I was 8-9 years old repairing equipment on our family farm. It led to heavily participating in the Agricultural Mechanics contests in FFA (Future Farmers of America) in high school, then a degree in Fluid Power from Ohio State ATI in Wooster.
What is the most memorable moment in your fluid power career, and what did it teach you?
In the early 2000s, I was called on a service call to discover a high-pressure hydraulic system that was plumbed partially with PVC water pipe. Mortified, I instructed the maintenance techs at that facility to keep the machine shut down until proper rated plumbing was installed. It made an impression on me that we take things for granted sometimes and that not everyone exposed to fluid power is “savvy” about fluid power.
What do you feel is the most important achievement in the fluid power industry?
In a roundabout way, the fact that fluid power is so obscure is testament to our industry’s utmost utility.
How and why did you get involved in the IFPS?
Having held certifications for close to 20 years through IFPS, I felt that “giving back” or “paying forward” was certainly appropriate. When Bob Kraft (founder of Kraft Fluid Systems and former IFPS president) suggested to me that I get involved, it was a wake-up call reminiscent of “Why didn’t I think of that sooner?”
Why do you feel the IFPS is important?
A couple of reasons. First, the certification/training is a “common core” that builds professionalism in the industry. Second, maintaining a “noise level” to stay on the radar of young professionals and students, especially those interested in technology, maintains the influx of youth and subsequent generations into fluid power.
Where do you see the fluid power industry heading in the next 10 years?
The easy answer would be more electronic controls, but I think that bell curve has already hit the 80/20 range and leveled off. The bubble won’t burst, but it’s not going to continue growing exponentially as it has the past 10 years. The real elephant in the room is the number of seasoned and experienced professionals that will retire in the next decade, taking with them a wealth of experience and knowledge.
What are some of your favorite hobbies and interests?
Cooking, gardening, and hunting. Specifically, I grow corn for size and have won several competitions for tall stalks and large ears (stalks 21+ feet tall and ears over 16″ long).
What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?
When I was in high school, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to be a chef or a heavy equipment mechanic. I toured and visited several culinary academies, as well as several diesel and equipment programs. I noticed the diesel mechanic shops were all cleaner than the culinary kitchens. Kind of made my decision easier.