Monday, December 23, 2019

Eric Leifermann - This is How I Work

This week we are hearing from Eric Leifermann, mentor of team 2826 Wave Robotics. Read our interview with Eric to learn more about him! 

[Responses from November 13, 2019] 

Name: Eric Leifermann
CD Username: Eric:Leifermann
Current Gig/Job: Mechanical Applications Engineer at RB Royal.
Alma Mater/Degree: BS in Mechanical Engineering at Michigan Technological University
Current Team(s): 2826 Wave Robotics

Former Team(s): 93 N.E.W Apple Corps 01-05, 857 Superior Roboworks 07-10
Location: Oshkosh, Wisconsin
Hobbies: board games, sports mainly football, soccer, and hockey, but will watch baseball and basketball as well, woodworking, music, watching my 1 year old son learn and problem solve, reading, movies and tv, my dogs Gotham (rottweiler) and Wicket (pitbull).

Are you an alumni: Yes, I am 

What inspired you to do what you do?
Growing up I was taking things apart and putting them back together. My mother likes to tell a story about me taking apart her office chair and putting it back together but not fully secure and laughing when she would sit in it and it would fall apart. So she liked to make sure I wasn't in the house much and was always busy doing something. In the 8th grade I was in a High Mileage Vehicle extracurricular where you build a car and compete to get the best MPG. My club that year built 2 and I ended up being the kid who welded both of the cars' framed together. It was a ton of fun and I learned that working with my hands and designing things is something I really enjoyed. Fast forward to the fall of my freshman year in high school and I had no direction or activity to do, my mom heard about my schools FRC team through her work, as she worked at the main corporate sponsor of the team where all the mentors came from. They had a mentor meeting during lunch and mentioned they were looking for a student who had some welding experience and who might want to join the team. So the next day my mom as she's dropping me off at school tells me to go talk to the tech ed teacher, Mr Schuff, about joining the team. Went and talk to him 5 minutes later and have been hooked ever since. Never welded a single thing on any robot in my 4 years on the team as we switched to different manufacturing techniques that year ha! 

What is your day job and how'd you get there?
I currently work at RB Royal as a Mechanical Applications Engineer. Its part sales, part design engineer, part manufacturing engineer. RB Royal manufactures custom fluid transfer solutions for various industries. We've got part on Harley Davidson motorcycles, John Deere tractors of all sizes, boat motors, Semi truck engines and transmission, and all sorts of other equipment. I've only been at RB Royal since September of this year. Prior to that I worked at Oshkosh Defense for a couple of years, where I was a Design Engineer working on the JLTV Platform team as a Subject Matter Expert on the JLTV. 

I like new challenges and to learn new things so I've had a few jobs since I graduated college and each role has allowed me to learn and each one has been in a completely new industry. I've been an R&D engineer for the non-wovens industry (if you don't know what non-wovens are you use them everyday and you don't even know it google them it's pretty cool technology in how they are made), Manufacturing and Automation Engineer, Project Design engineer, and fresh out of college I was an AmeriCorps VISTA working in Washington DC with FIRST.

What is your favorite story to tell about robotics?
I have a lot of stories with this being my 19th season of FRC coming up, but one of my favorites stories to tell new prospective people is about my very first regional in 2002 at the Midwest Regional at Northwestern University. I had a terrible cold and probably shouldn't had been at the event, but it was the only regional that was my team went to back then and I wasn't involved enough to qualify for going to national championship (that's what it was called back then) down in Disney with the teams so I wasn't going to miss it. I spent a good portion of Thursday practice day laying on the floor in the pits staring at the ceiling, then on Friday sitting in the stands shivering while scouting. Luckily my health improved friday night and Saturday was a great day. But the energy in the venue and seeing all the hard work my team, and everbody elses team put in was life changing. I thought I knew what I wanted to do for a career just from that build season, but THAT event and even being as sick as I was for the majority of it was some of the most fun I've ever had. I like to tell people that FRC is the most fun they've never heard of and that they won't understand until they go to an event, this is the story I use to try and explain why.

What's your favorite FRC game and why?
My favorite game is definitely 2005. The amount of things that you could do in the game was so vast that it was pretty much impossible to do everything that the robots looked SO different from one another compared to any time since. It was a great game for picking an choosing and compromising. I would love to play this game in the new era, though the field would have to be redesigned a bit as 6 robots would not fit on the field. 

What's the best advice you've ever received?
It's cliche but "if you enjoy what you do you'll never work a day in your life". I am in constant search for this balance. I think another good piece of advice I've been given, oddly enough by the same person, is "maturity is about timing." What that means is being aware of your environment and knowing how to act in that situation. A 32 year old man crawling on the floor barking like a dog seems pretty immature, but then you see their young child next to them playing as well, your perspective on their maturity changes. 

What's your favorite robot that you didn't help build?
My favorite robot I didn't help build would be 33 The Killer Bees 2005 robot. They had this cool way to stack tetras (the game piece that year) in their robot and they had this double jointed arm and trident type end effector to grab the tetras off their robot or from the loading station. Their operator controller that year was a button box and it had a button for each position on the arm and next to the button was a picture of what the robot would look like when you pressed the button. Pretty cool/advanced stuff for 2005 FRC. I tried to find a picture but couldn't, so if you're reading this and have a picture of this robot from back then upload it to CD or something. 

Tell us about a time you failed and learned from it. 
The only time you fail is if you don't learn from it. It sounds dumb but I say it all the time to my students on  Wave Fail is an acronym and it stands for First Attempt In Learning. So in that context im failing and learning all the time. If you're afraid to fail you'll never get anywhere in life. 

What advice would you give to your students?

The things I repeatedly tell my students:
-Ask questions early and often
-If you don't want to volunteer for something I'm not going to assign it to you, this isn't school.
-Go to whichever college that is going to give you the most $ or costs the least. At the end of the day a degree is a degree and your drive and life experiences are what's going to set you apart. Don't start life leaps behind because you felt that you had to go to XYZ University and end up in tons of debt. 

What is the most impactful thing you have learned from robotics?
Never stop chasing your goals. 

What led you to become a mentor?
FRC had a huge impact on my life and put me on a trajectory that I did not see when I was 14 years old. Knowing the impact my mentors had on me, there is a need and want to pass that on to the next generations and to see how I can help change someone's life. 

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