Engineers Week Interview with Mike Thompson of Wagstaff

In honor of Engineers Week, attached is a short “e-interview” I did with Mike Thompson of Wagstaff. Mike works at Wagstaff, Inc ( as a mechanical engineer. He works primarily on the billet product line. (Billet is mostly cast by aluminum smelters and remelter/recyclers to be extruded into aluminum shapes.) Wagstaff is the world leader in direct-chill aluminum casting equipment.

Q: Mike, tell me more about Wagstaff Billet Casting System.

A: Every piece of equipment we make is custom, but they all follow basic design rules. A billet system could be small and have 4,000 parts, or very large and have over 12,000 parts. This lends itself very well to parameterized seed parts. Over the past three years I’ve been working to help our product line make the transition from our previous 2D software to NX.  Now with NX6,  I am working on migrating our seed parts to Product Template Studio to further streamline our reuse process. 

We were recently asked to build a system for an Italian extruder that already has a working casthouse. I started with our billet table seed model and modified it to fit within our given parameters. Last week while at the customer’s site, I was able to show them the models and give them a real sense of what their equipment was going to look like. With NX6 I was able to rotate a model around and show them exactly what they’re getting. I was also able to make quick changes in response to situations I found on site, revise drawings and get them approved all within the day and a half I was there.

Images courtesy of Wagstaff, Inc.

Q: What did you think you would be when you grew up? Did you want to be an engineer?

A: I don’t think my story is very unique. I always loved math and I loved my Legos. It didn’t take long for me to realize that engineering was the place for me.

Q: What do you think is the coolest invention ever?

A: I know it’s not related to mechanics in any way, but I would have to say and the Music Genome Project. I created a station two years with one band and now I have a custom station with hundreds of songs and dozens of bands, many of which I had never heard of before. I consistently changes itself to adapt to my needs as an individual customer. It is a single product that can be configured an infinite number of ways. It reads my mind. It’s awesome!

Q: What do you love most about being an engineer?

A: I love seeing something that I’ve designed on my computer screen come to life out it the shop and have it actually work. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of that.

Q: What’s a typical day in your life?

A: It changes from day to day. Some days I actually get to spend all eight hours at my computer working on my current project. What normally happens is I spend time helping other NX users with questions they have, I get called down to the shop for question or solutions to projects currently in production, answer questions from sales, purchasing and planning and get to spend a few moments here and there at my desk to work on what I need to work on.

Q: How will engineering be different in the next 10 years? 

A: As engineering software becomes more and more complex, I think we’ll start to see a growing dichotomy between engineers who know engineering and those who assume that software will solve all of their problems. A beautiful model and a colorful stress analysis are wonderful things to have, but only if the engineer understands exactly what they are doing and that they are running the software, not being run by the software. We are seeing a situation right now where a major car company may have had their analysis correct, but their inputs to that analysis were incomplete. I graduated in 2006 and noticed many of my classmates who would try to let the computer do their work for them. They didn’t understand that software was an amazing tool, but the real innovation came from their own minds.

I am all for advancing technologies that increase our capabilities as engineers. I just hope we all remember who the engineers are and what that means.

Mike, thank you for your time, and for sharing your insight with our readers.

Please let me know what you thought of this article, by adding your comments below.



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