Kyle Dahlquist started as a Design Engineer at ICI in Summer 2013. From a young age, Kyle was driven to work in the automotive industry. “I’ve been building cars since I could buy them,” said Kyle. “Fabrication and design are what I like to do.” Kyle is a bit of an adrenaline junkie, spending his free time jumping trucks and playing sports. From volleyball, to golf, to snowboarding, surfing and more, Kyle has diverse interests. Fun fact – Kyle played professional paintball. Read on to learn more about what it’s like to work as an engineer in the aftermarket auto accessories industry.
Describe a typical day at the office. Come in in the morning, make some coffee, sit down. Usually check with the Production Department outside to see if they need any assistance with anything because they’ve already been here for a few hours before me in the morning. I work pretty closely with them. And then just start working on any of our current projects that we are designing or building or finishing up.
Describe your working environment. It’s pretty fun. All the engineers sit together in the same office where we work with our computers and then we have the shop outside. I transition between those two most of the time. Maybe once a week or so I’ll go out of the building and go to a dealership or somewhere where there is a vehicle that we need to test fit something on, or pick up a vehicle and bring it back, but most of my time is spent either in the office on the computer or out in the shop physically working on product.
Kyle working on a new OE Lighting Solutions light bracket design.
What are some of the tools, machines and software you use to do your job? I work mainly with two programs on the computer, one being SolidWorks, the 3-D design program and then the other one is called Pronest, that’s our nesting program for our CNC machines. And then outside all of the fabrication tools – welding, grinding, the CNC machines, the benders. Everything from hand tools to fully computer-aided.
How did you get started in the field? The automotive stuff I actually got into through a friend that asked me to come help him do some work with a tire manufacturer doing motorsports, so we we’re doing tire service at different motorsports events around the country. That was my first ever experience with the automotive industry. From there I did sales with a local aftermarket parts distributor and then got into this after that.
What kind of training and education do you have? Fabrication stuff I kind of learned on my own, hands on. My dad was a mechanic, worked on vehicles forever, so I learned from him and then I went to college. I went to University of Arizona for two years in Mechanical Engineering and then transferred to Northern Arizona University. Most of my training has been on the job. A little bit of the basis that I had before I was able to apply and I think that made it a lot easier for me to catch on.
Where do you get your inspiration? I get a lot of it from what I see other places. I’ll see something come out in a magazine or on T.V. and I’ll look at it, decide what I do and don’t like about it, and then draw from that to make something unique that I really do like everything about. I follow a lot of people on Instagram, like small fabricators all over that design really cool, unique things. I get a lot of ideas from that. That’s mostly where I get it from, just seeing what other people in the industry are doing. You’ll see something built that is a good idea, but it’s just not designed well or implemented well, and you understand what they are going for with it, but then figuring out a better way to do it, I like doing that a lot.
What do you enjoy most about your job? I like being able to be outside and inside whenever I want. I’m not stuck inside on the computer all day, but I’m also not stuck outside in the heat all day working. I can transition very easily and there is always something to be done in both locations. That’s my favorite thing, keeps things interesting and keeps things from getting boring.
Kyle working in the shop, testing a new OE Lighting Solutions bracket for fit.
What motivates you? I see people that are better at doing certain things than I am and I don’t like that [laughs]. One of my big things is welding. I see people that are professional welders that have been doing it forever and they can do it very well, and I don’t feel like I’m that good that. Just seeing things that I consider somebody to be better at than me, I want to catch up, I want to better than them eventually. I have that constant desire to be the best.
What do you hope to achieve in the next year? Constantly improving in the fabrication and design process. I also want to create some of my own products – have something that was my idea and I built it and see it come full circle and being sold places. Right now we work very much as a team but we’re also trying to work on projects by ourselves a little bit so we can get more accomplished.
What upcoming projects are you most excited about? We’re coming up with some cool new designs for bumpers and the additional pieces that go with it like grille guards, pre-runner bars, and things like that that are going to be a little more unique that people aren’t really doing right now. I do like the light solutions brackets a lot as well. I don’t think anyone is making as many applications as we do. That was something that working in sales before I came here was always frustrating, trying to find something for a customer and having to go to 50 different places to find the one that fit their vehicle vs. having a good source for it.
What changes do you expect to see in the automotive accessories field in the future? Vehicles are changing significantly. Everything is getting more computer integrated. Incorporating more computers into a vehicle makes it difficult to change things. Even with bumpers and things like that, up until this year we hadn’t really dealt with a truck that had front parking sensors in it. These are things that have to be very precisely mounted and fit into things so it’s taking a lot more time to figure those things out because the manufacturers don’t tell you the way they need to be mounted in there to work properly. So we’re spending a lot more time on things like that, that before we didn’t have to, and I think that’s going to continue. You’re starting to have heads up displays in vehicles where they are projecting images on the windshields of oncoming accidents and traffic and animals that are off to the side of the road that it sees before you see them using infrared and cameras. So these are all things that are being integrated into vehicles that no one has had to deal with and when you are working on aftermarket stuff, again the manufacturers aren’t helping you with that. You’re on your own trying to figure out what makes it work. Increasing the amount of technology in things makes more work, but it’s also really cool some of the things you can do. Thinking of these sensors, what else could they be used for besides parking? If you’re in a lifted truck and you don’t know what’s underneath you, well now you have sensors down there telling you things like that. It’s more than just some guy in his garage fabricating pieces; now, you have to use technology to figure out this technology. It will be fun; fun and frustrating all at the same time.
Are there any common misconceptions about this type of work? I think most people know someone that has built something for their own personal vehicle, or who modifies their own vehicle, or they know someone with a custom vehicle of some sort. Most people that aren’t into that sort of thing don’t realize how much work goes into it, how much time and labor is involved in it because they know someone and are like, well, he did that in his garage this weekend, he put on this piece to this vehicle and it took him a day to do it. Here we take a month to complete a bumper before it’s completely out of production. I think that’s mostly what it is, people that aren’t into automotive stuff and things like that or the aftermarket thing don’t realize how long things take and how much real work and effort goes into it. I mean we have three engineers working full time on things and it still takes a month to do it. Hopefully when it’s done it’s done right. That’s the other question – there is a big difference between that and the guy in the garage putting something together, and I came from that too and I learned a lot from it. I was able to come here and it was a good base for learning the hands on part of things, but when you have to build something that someone else is going to rely on and wants it to fit right and it’s going to be safe for them, it’s a huge difference than a one off custom piece. I think that’s mostly what it is, just the amount of time and effort that goes into these things.
What is your advice to someone interested in joining this field? If you go to engineering school it will almost guarantee you a job somewhere in the industry. If you don’t have that option, then just getting a basic job doing something with cars whether it being working at a tire shop, something like that, starting at ground level and working your way up. I kind of went both directions with it, going to school and also starting off at an aftermarket re-saler. Just being able to work in the industry even if it’s not doing exactly what you want to be doing right away, you’ll have some sort of base experience that can be applied to it and work your way up. Networking by far is the biggest thing, so putting yourself in a place to give you that opportunity.
What qualities do you think make someone successful at this type of work? Patience. Being able to envision things before they are built and being able to picture things. Being able to draw, sketch like an artist. Being able to take your idea from your head and turn it into a physical product. So that transition however you do it, whether drawing a picture of it or being able to describe it well enough so that somebody else can draw it is really the biggest thing. There’s so many people that I talk to that are like, “I want it this way,” but they can’t draw it or they can’t get it out of their mind. Endurance, seeing something through to the end too, not giving up on it because you’ll run into tons of problems throughout the whole process and being able to problem solve well when those things happen, when they arise and figure out what the best solution is given all of your constraints. So patience, endurance and being able to translate things from the vision you have into a working product is the most important.
Which project was the most rewarding for you? What are you most proud of? The two big things I’ve been working on are bumpers and the light brackets – the OE Lighting Solutions. I’m super happy with the light brackets just because like I said before, that was something that I was missing on the retail side of things. Now I having the opportunity to all the things that I was missing to actually go and make them and provide them to people. So I wouldn’t just say it’s just one of [light brackets], but more of the whole project. I want more of them, I want [brackets] for every vehicle that anyone has ever wanted one for, I want to be able to provide that. Going through those has been really rewarding to me because of my personal experience in the past of missing them. The bumpers are really cool, I like the design that we are doing with them. I think it’s more unique than a lot of the other companies out there, and that’s one thing I’ve been excited about. My personal thing is the light brackets because that’s more of my project that I’ve been focusing on and having needed those, I like them a lot. So every time we do another one I’m like, “sweet, let’s do more, more and more.”