Mechanical engineering major Blake Zegiestowsky completed a co-op with Mercedes-Benz U.S. International, Inc. in Vance, Alabama during the spring and summer semesters of 2022 and now, in the spring and summer semesters of 2023.
Going into this Co-op, I had no idea what an engineer in the automotive industry did. I learned so much more than I expected. Now, I understand all the engineering roles in the automotive industry and which of them I like and dislike. I had the opportunity to work in three different departments: quality, R&D for electronics, and my favorite, R&D for powertrain & chassis components. My communication skills improved exponentially, since I did everything from explaining processes to production workers to presenting results and findings to upper-level management. Since Mercedes-Benz is a German company, I learned how to speak German since around half of my co-workers were ex-pats from Germany. I also worked with engineers from Mexico, China, India, South Africa, Columbia, France, and South Korea, so I am accustomed to diversity.
I worked on some awesome projects that I am very proud of. I designed a part from scratch used on four car lines in the United States, Germany, and China. I had no previous experience with 3D modeling, so I had to teach myself as I went. I 3D printed 11 prototypes and tested them on over 350 cars. Once I landed on an optimal design, I sent samples to our Mercedes-Benz plants in Germany and China to try, and they were very impressed. I researched which material and manufacturing process would be best for mass-producing this part. I decided to get the part injection molded in Nylon 12. I then had to alter my design to make it compatible with injection molding. I reached out to multiple suppliers to compare costs and lead times. Finally, I worked with logistics to implement this part in the United States, Germany, and China. I learned everything about the design process from start to finish with this project.
Initially, I was skeptical about doing a Co-op because I did not want to take any semesters off and delay my graduation. Now looking back, it is the best decision I have ever made. I realized there is so much more to engineering than the classes you take in school. I now have a completely different outlook on my career. I know exactly what I want to do, and I am ready to hit the ground running!