Nick Rodriguez a Mechanical Engineer intern working with the Survivability
Vulnerability Assessment Directorate, holds a special mounting he made for one
of the facility’s sensors. Rodriguez custom-made the mounting, allowing the
sensors to be placed in a more secure fashion than previously possible.
An engineering intern at White Sands Missile Range is getting valuable on the job experience while also improving WSMR's ability to conduct its test missions and communicate with customers.
While many interns worry if they're actually gaining work experience or merely doing busy work, Nick Rodriguez can see his contribution to WSMR's ongoing mission. A Mechanical Engineering student from Emery Riddle's Aeronautics school, Rodriguez's degree program requires students complete an internship. In his case, that means a summer job working at the Survivability Vulnerability Assessment Directorate's High Powered Electromagnetic Effects facility.
The facility, which tests everything from personal communication systems to missiles and armored vehicles, uses special equipment to reproduce the effect of an Electromagnetic pulse, a burst of energy produced by nuclear and directed energy weapons that can damage electronics.
Arriving and being put into a self-quarantine for several weeks put Rodriguez on teleworking, an unfortunately common situation for new employees in the year 2020. He still received initial work assignments though, and had to learn how to focus and execute his assignments without going to a work area, or having a supervisor to keep an eye on him.
"I had to be a lot stricter with myself as it was e"asier to get distracted or tired working from my own house," Rodriguez said.
Once he got working though, Rodriguez was able to take measures to stay on task and find a rhythm. "I helped keep focus through music and dressing in full business attire to give myself more of a work environment feeling," said Rodriguez.
Interns world over have a common concern: Will the work contribute to the job and their education, or will it just be busywork? Rodriguez was left wondering this for a while as well, as he received work like checking the compatibility of files with the software SVAD uses.
By the time he was free from quarantine and could really get to work, the job got more important quickly. He was assigned the job of creating an accurate 3D model of the EMP facility. To do this he had to take numerous accurate measurements of the facility, and import those into the computer while also molding the physical structures, much like an architect would make a scale model of a building. Part of this included measuring the electric and magnetic field the facility generates for its testing.
He was also assigned a special job to enhance the facility itself. Using a newly acquired 3D printer, Rodriguez began designing equipment and sensor mounts.
To conduct the EMP evaluation mission, the facility has a number of special sensors they place based on the exact evaluation or test taking place. The sensors are all purpose built, and not many groups or facilities in the nation require such specialized items. As such, they don't have any way to be mounted or positioned, so the ones in use by SVAD were often placed by simply lashing them to a tripod or other stand.
Using his skills as a mechanical engineer, Rodriguez designed proper tripod mounts and other adaptors to allow the sensors to be mounted correctly, more securely, and with greater accuracy than previously possible. All the designs were crafted in a virtual 3D environment, and then built from wafer-thin layer by layer out of UV reactive resin in the 3D printer.
While it sounds simple, the machine doesn't do all the work for you. Preparing a model for production requires that the operator set up the model to be made with proper supports and make adjustments to account for the accuracy of a printed item to ensure the items actually fit the mounts.
"I got better after the first couple models," Rodriguez said. "Now everything has the right amount of wiggle room.
These were only a few of the tasks that Rodriguez was given while working at WSMR, where he also supported other complex facilities like high powered microwave.
The EMP facility typically attracts electrical engineers instead of mechanical engineers like Rodriguez, but bringing in engineers from other disciplines is a good way to keep fresh ideas coming into the organization.
"We don't have many mechanical engineers here, so it's good to have a different perspective on how we do things," said Dr. Eric Berry, the SVAD electronics engineer who mentored Rodriguez.
Berry was glad to have an extra trained engineer on the team, and to contribute to Rodriguez's job experience. "It wasn't as steep of a learning curve because he'd already been using the tools," said Berry. "We accomplished a lot this summer."
Rodriguez is proud of the work he's done at WSMR and recommends others look into the opportunities Army Test and Evaluation Command has to offer those starting their careers.
"I think I've done more than my friends (who were also working internships) because I've been modeling and making parts that are going to be used." Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez plans to go visit his family and look for a permanent position upon completing his internship, with the possibility of entering civil service.