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Am I doing the right thing
7

Am I doing the right thing

Am I doing the right thing

(OP)
I'm a new engineer at a small company which really isn't set up for engineering work. It's mostly a job shop, manufacturing parts that have been engineered by larger companies. They have been awarded a couple of contracts over the past decade, but there isn't a significant amount of experience doing internal engineering projects. I was hired in May after graduating from university, and I was brought into a project that was nearing the end of the design phase. Now it's going out for product certification testing. The CEO and lead engineer (who doesn't have any formal engineering training) is guiding me on this project. If we just focus on the project at hand, there are quite a lot of things he's doing and asking me to do that I don't feel ethically stable on. For example, our customer's approved qualification testing plan document specifically states that all of the units we send to be tested must be production quality units. However, most of the detail parts and subassemblies that make up the final unit are test parts that were made as design validation, not made through the proper methods of tracking material and parts used, having quality inspection buy-off on all stages of the process, etc. We're doing all that now, after everything has already been completed, which leads to a lot of guesswork (we can't verify hardware lot number, for example, so we just pick one that was ordered around the time we think the units were assembled). These certainly aren't production quality units to me.

Another example of this is minimum electrical clearance on electrical assemblies (for the same product I discussed above). We're performing high voltage tests at 1000 V through the unit to ensure there aren't short/open circuits anywhere. I calculated MEC based on IPC-A-610, and there is a part of the design which violates MEC for 1000 V. However, operating voltage is 200 V, and MEC isn't violated at that level. I was instructed to not worry about it because MEC is for operating voltage, not testing voltage, even though the document states "rated voltage" (which to me is whatever our tests run at) as the basis for MEC.

All of this comes down to us being late for certification testing. The unit was supposed to be sent for testing weeks ago, but that kept getting pushed back because of design changes and manufacturing. So it seems like instead of admitting fault and doing it right, the lead engineer wants to try to figure out a way around the system to make the incorrect design work.

Am I right to be concerned about all of this? I feel like the whole situation is unethical, but I don't have a very solid footing for making an argument against it to my boss. I keep getting told this is how it's done all the time in industry. Yesterday I told myself I was going to look for a new job. But I wonder if I'm being rash and getting worked up about nothing. Please share your advice

RE: Am I doing the right thing

LOOK FASTER...

John R. Baker, P.E. (ret)
EX-Product 'Evangelist'
Irvine, CA
Siemens PLM:
UG/NX Museum:

The secret of life is not finding someone to live with
It's finding someone you can't live without

RE: Am I doing the right thing

I'd also keep looking. Don't blow the whistle or burn any bridges yet, but something tells me your opinions wont be respected and that this will slow your engineering career progress at a minimum.

Ian Riley, PE, SE
Professional Engineer (ME, NH, MA) Structural Engineer (IL)
American Concrete Industries https://www.facebook.com/AmericanConcrete/

RE: Am I doing the right thing

dvanommen,

By the sound of it, the nearest thing to a licensed professional engineer at your place is you. Trial and error is not the best way to learn engineering, especially if safety is involved. You are at the stage of your career when you want to be mentored by a professional you trust and admire.

What do the documents your customer is receiving say? If they say your system is rated to 1000V, then your boss is lying. If they say 200V, then your boss is not lying. I am a mechie, and I do not understand safety factors in the electrical world. Factors of safety are also sometimes called factors of ignorance. You, as a recent college grad, are ignorant.

--
JHG

RE: Am I doing the right thing

(OP)
Thank you all for your input so far. drawoh, you're right that I'm the closest thing to a licensed PE here. In fact, I'm the third current employee who serves as an engineer, and only the second employee who has formal engineering training from a university. Unfortunately, trial and error has been what I've done every day I've been employed here.

I recognize my ignorance in this matter. As you said, I need to be mentored by someone I trust. Unfortunately, due to conversations I've had with my supervisor (the ceo), I can't trust him. The only other engineer in the company is his brother, so how much can I trust him either?

I believe there are some points of reconciliation I've come to on the matter of the design of this particular product. However, the larger issue of trust looms. I can't work at a company where I don't trust the only other people who give me instruction in how to be an engineer. I've come as far as to draft a letter of resignation detailing my concerns, but I haven't sent it yet. It's a big decision to make, and I still don't know if it's the right decision. The product in question is going to certification testing tomorrow, and they've asked me to be the "quality and engineering signoff" on the test documents stating that the test is done per specification. However, I can't sign that document if I'm not comfortable with how the unit was manufactured.

RE: Am I doing the right thing

I agree with JohnRBaker, look quickly for a new place to work. Possibly another bit of motivation to get out: I don't know where you're working, but as far as I know, anywhere in the US, you have to work under the supervision of a licensed P.E. to become a P.E.

RE: Am I doing the right thing

I wouldn't sign the test documents unless the actual extent of the testing, the voltage that passed the test, etc. are detailed in the documents. If the way it was done is really ok, then it shouldn't be a problem to have it documented. Otherwise, you're potentially certifying a fraudulent document, which is not only an ethical problem, but legal one that could cost you much more than just a few paychecks.

RE: Am I doing the right thing

dvanommen,

Can you write up the document you are going to sign? I understand this is a professional engineering issue. You write up and state you observed assembly serial number 0012 on such and such a date, you describe the test and you describe the results. If the customer is looking at serial number 0155 sixth months later, they can read between the lines. This accounts for the near certainty that you are not in charge of production.

--
JHG

RE: Am I doing the right thing

(OP)
That is a separate conversation I'll have to have with the lead. As far as I understand it, these documents are already written, and I am simply signing "pass/fail" on the face of the document. I was already uneasy about being asked to be the witness to the test because I haven't been involved in the design of the unit save for the last few weeks, and I don't understand how the unit operates. I voiced my opinion that I'm not the best fit, but I was assured that someone with any technical understanding would be able to visually verify the test was set up and performed correctly.

RE: Am I doing the right thing

"...I was assured that someone with any technical understanding would be able to visually verify the test was set up and performed correctly."

Perhaps you have too much technical understanding, which they didn't anticipate when looking for a scapegoat.

RE: Am I doing the right thing

So... why are you staying?

RE: Am I doing the right thing

I would write an honest report, detailing the tests that were done, which units were tested, the outcome of the tests, etc. and sign that report, but I would not sign a fraudulent report. If they fire you for that, it'll be a slam dunk when you sue them for wrongful termination.

RE: Am I doing the right thing

Don't sign the pre-written document. Sign your own version of it that tells it like it is. What that document needs to say, is up to you. It needs to be the factual truth, whatever that may be.

"Production quality" units doesn't necessarily mean "production" units ... just the "same" as the production units. In my world (automotive) that means dimensionally the same and made of the same materials etc but not necessarily built using the production tooling and automation equipment. If you need to state that in your document ... by all means. If you don't know a serial number, that blank gets filled in "N/A". If you know a range of serial numbers but not the exact one ... explain it. Tell it like it is.

RE: Am I doing the right thing

Quote (HotRod)

I don't know where you're working, but as far as I know, anywhere in the US, you have to work under the supervision of a licensed P.E. to become a P.E.

If he is in aerospace as his title signifies then he really doesn't need a PE stamp, he needs to be a designated engineering representative under the FAA (AFAIK). Not sure what that entails but it's not under a state licensing board.

Ian Riley, PE, SE
Professional Engineer (ME, NH, MA) Structural Engineer (IL)
American Concrete Industries https://www.facebook.com/AmericanConcrete/

RE: Am I doing the right thing

That's interesting, TME. I didn't know it was that different in the aerospace industry.

RE: Am I doing the right thing

When you feel it necessary to write CYA diaries and disclaimers to protect yourself from your employer's actions, it's past time to go.

RE: Am I doing the right thing

Quote (HotRod)

That's interesting, TME. I didn't know it was that different in the aerospace industry.

Yeah, that's why a lot of people grumbled about the fine for the guy who wrote a letter about traffic light timing to state licensing board and signed that he was an engineer (he never claimed to be a professional engineer or to be practicing engineering). There are plenty of industries where an engineer is not necessarily licensed by a state board (automotive and aerospace probably the most prevalent).

</tangent>

Ian Riley, PE, SE
Professional Engineer (ME, NH, MA) Structural Engineer (IL)
American Concrete Industries https://www.facebook.com/AmericanConcrete/

RE: Am I doing the right thing

dvanommen
Are you producing ground support equipment ,or are you producing flight articles.

You say " Now it's going out for product certification testing." by whom ? The FAA or some other entity?

Is this going to be a part produced under a TSO ?
B.E.

You are judged not by what you know, but by what you can do.

RE: Am I doing the right thing

HotRod10,

In aerospace, there are Designated Airworthiness Representatives (DARs) to sign stuff off as safe. Unlike civil engineering, there is a lot of capability to test stuff before it gets used and trusted.

I have just finished a contract with a manufacturer of entertainment products. Stuff has been designed and rigorously tested, and is now being signed off on by professional engineers who either did the testing, or carefully watched it. They are trusting production to build what was designed. Here is a photograph of the cash register in the cafeteria.

--
JHG

RE: Am I doing the right thing

Interesting how provisions for public safety are handled differently in various industries. I thought others were similar to civil/structural, but apparently not. I guess it makes sense to do things differently when you're producing many of the same item, unlike where we usually only produce a few (or one) of a particular design. Overall, the different approaches all seem to work fairly well, as the death rate from engineering failures is very low across the board.

RE: Am I doing the right thing

(OP)
Thank you all for your feedback and guidance on this issue. I made the choice to leave the company on short notice. I wasn't able to move forward with the project at hand knowing how it was being processed, and even beyond that particular project, there were quite a lot of issues I had with motives behind how the company was being run. So I didn't see any benefit in continuing there any longer. It wasn't the easiest choice to make but I know it was the right choice. So thank you again for helping me get to that point.

RE: Am I doing the right thing

(OP)
I have to ask, now, if anyone is aware of any entry level opportunities for mechanical engineers in the Wichita, KS area, please let me know. I have applications out already to 6 different companies, but any other options I can look into, I certainly will. My interests are largely in aviation, but I'm skilled at mechanical design for other applications as well.

RE: Am I doing the right thing

Hopefully they 'get' why you left, somehow I think they think it was you with the issues though. Good decision.

RE: Am I doing the right thing

Dvanommen,

I started writing my answer before reading all the way... now I see you've quit already. Hopefully my answers below still stand, and are helpful. Best of luck to you, and I hope your next employer is better organized. It's best to land in a fairly structured environment when you are early in your career. Then you can see a process "that works".

I have done a lot of aero product tests. Conformity to design is crucial. Early in my career I let a few tests get delayed when inspection caught discrepancies. It was usually an error on the drawing (my drawing!), but still, I don't ever want that to happen to me again.

To underline, perhaps a bit too starkly, an 8130 Form is a legal document. To forge or sign one falsely is therefore a _____. You get my drift. Clearly no one in that company was actually authorized to sign one or had any clue what it means. This document tells you who does.

Lots of aviation companies to choose from in Wichita. Bombardier, Hawker/Beech, Textron and Cessna all have a big presence there. That said... are you willing to relocate? The majority of aero engineering projects done in the US (and Canada, hint hint) are not done by the OEM's but subcontracted or carried out for owners/operators doing their own thing. There are engineering organizations in every major city on the continent.

No one believes the theory except the one who developed it. Everyone believes the experiment except the one who ran it.
STF

RE: Am I doing the right thing

You ultimately decide upon the environment you want to work in, however I'd caution against letting this group get you too worked up on this matter as many here bounce between both extremes on ethical matters. Given the limited info in this thread I dont see any ethical issues. When customers specify "production quality" units for testing they're typically not looking for traceability to the n^th degree bc testing will usually destroy products, they simply want a production released product rather than risk wasting their time and test dollars on an in-development project. In many cases, customer design specs are also over-defined leading to handshake/gentlemen's/etc agreements on acceptability criteria after an engineering spec review. Much as I hate rules of thumb in engineering, a good one for business is that most companies are overconstrained by requirements and process. Here in the auto industry for example I'd wager no vehicle has ever been built to meet every one of a major car company's design requirements and often not even the govt's. As to signing certification or other legal documents, they're commonly prepared by either a test technician or other engineer, don't sweat them unless the boss asks you to lie after the fact. Review them, strikethrough and initial the errors, write-in/correct and initial as necessary, and sign the document you're comfortable with. Rarely will you ever sign a "perfect" document.

Unless you've resigned already I'd suggest sticking it out at least a full year or until you encounter an actual ethical challenge or other valid reason to leave. After a year or two you can claim "learned the job, bored, no room for advancement" and be somewhat believable. Leaving after only a few months seems flaky to most hiring managers and 3rd-4th quarter hiring is often slow. If you have left already I'd advise caution when asked why. From limited info it doesnt sound like you've actually encountered an ethical issue, bottom line is you left bc you didnt trust an established company in a small city, likely a small niche that others will know and/or contact.

RE: Am I doing the right thing

2
(OP)
I understand that I've put myself in an awkward situation with future employers. It looks bad (or, at the very least, questionable) to see someone quit spontaneously after two months of working his first job in the industry. However, what it came down to for me is that I wasn't comfortable with what I was being asked to do, and I wasn't comfortable with the proposed solutions. There is a professional code of ethics and a personal one, and if something violates my personal beliefs of how a job should be run, I can't get past that. That's not how I want to perform in my engineering career, and so whether the issue at hand was a serious ethical problem or not for the industry, it doesn't align with my own sense of right and wrong. There's a place for being able to deviate from your design, and as far as I see it, that is only when it is a purely internal project with no buy-in from any third party customer. If another customer has given specifications on how a project should be handled, there should be no deviation from those requirements without prior approval from that customer and all paperwork in order before moving forward.

RE: Am I doing the right thing

dvanommen,
If asked by another prospective employer why you quit , just tell them you refused to sign off on a non conforming part. Depending on the culture of the company you are applying at it will assist you in getting hired , If it does not , you don't want to work for them anyway.
B.E.

You are judged not by what you know, but by what you can do.

RE: Am I doing the right thing

dvanommen,

If you tell someone you refused to sign off marginally ethical paperwork, and they hire you, they are the people you want to work for.

--
JHG

RE: Am I doing the right thing

(OP)
Thanks for the encouragement, berkshire and drawoh

RE: Am I doing the right thing

Quote:

There's a place for being able to deviate from your design, and as far as I see it, that is only when it is a purely internal project with no buy-in from any third party customer. If another customer has given specifications on how a project should be handled, there should be no deviation from those requirements without prior approval from that customer and all paperwork in order before moving forward.

In a perfect world I would agree but reality is rarely perfect. More often than not you'll find all manner of issues with customers, colleagues, and managers that prevent this. If I had a nickel for every last minute design change made bc of a two-person conversation with no documentation that didnt involve a working-level engineer...

Unless you were explicitly asked to falsify paperwork or do something that's genuinely unethical then I would forget any further mention of ethics and move on. Empty accusations are a serious matter and most hiring managers will immediately start digging to see if they're true to protect their employer and themselves from the possibility of future accusations against them. Scarily enough, empty accusations are actually pretty common today.

Good luck regardless.

RE: Am I doing the right thing

I'd agree entirely with CWB1. I was in a somewhat similar position when i started out and at times did feel I was taking a bit of a gamble but I stuck with the company for a few years and learnt a lot. For me the key issue is that it is a small company, in order to survive and grow they have to take the lowest cost, fastest, easiest route to deliver and often that means taking calculated risks with loose interpretations of customer requirements. You are right not to sign anything that would be legally compromising however the CEO knows the industry and customers better than you, he knows where the legal and ethical boundaries are and where he can push on them. Ultimately it is his company, his risk.

There are many important safety critical procedures and documentation required in NPI in all industries but there is also an awful lot of BS and red tape, I found the experience in a small company helps you workout how to cut through a lot of the BS. That is experience and now-how I have seen lacking in many 'big business' engineers.

That all said, when it comes to career advice, my advice is always trust your gut. It sounds like this company wasn't right for you so you made the right decision. As for moving forward, be honest but not too specific eg - "I realised the company wouldn't take my career in the right direction, no experienced engineer mentor, no training opportunities etc" and even take some responsibility for the failure "I should have done more to research the company - lesson learned - that's why I am applying to you now etc." Having interviewed many engineers myself I find a little self-deprecating honesty makes someone appear more trustworthy. Best of luck and remember, what is for you won't go by you

RE: Am I doing the right thing

"You are right not to sign anything that would be legally compromising however the CEO knows the industry and customers better than you, he knows where the legal and ethical boundaries are and where he can push on them. Ultimately it is his company, his risk."

Unless he just hires inexperienced, unsuspecting people to be a patsies if something fails with catastrophic results.

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