Get to Know: Rob Sparks
TekRex recently added Rob Sparks, Mechanical Design Engineer, to the team. We sat down with Rob to get to know him better. Rob, welcome to the TyRex Technology Family.
So Rob, tell us a little bit about yourself. Where do you come from and where have you worked previously?
Well, I was born in a little college town in central Illinois called Champaign and then ended up moving to Indianapolis, staying there through high school. I went to college at Purdue University and studied mechanical engineering, which ended up allowing me to study in Germany. After school I was able to work for a company that specialized in prototypes and one-off parts for Le Mans style race cars, as well as parts for aviation manufacturers like Boeing.
After that, I moved to Seattle and began working for Chef’n, designing kitchen tools. There I was lucky enough to get exposed to and hone my skills at designing for a number of manufacturing processes like injection molding, vacuum molding, 3D printing and a number of different machining processes. It’s also where I actually was named on a few patents!
From there, I became an independent designer for a while, with the highlight being working with the Gates Foundation to design a latrine pump. There were plenty of other great moments, like designing and building museum interiors, before ultimately coming to Austin where my wife is originally from.
What drew you to mechanical design and fabrication?
I love the creativity and mental stimulation you get from it. My parents tell me they always knew I was going to be an engineer when they saw how interested I was in taking apart my toys growing up. I’ve always loved learning how things work.
Here, we really seem free to push the envelope on designs as far as product design and making the best product possible. [I love] the ability to pretty much go anywhere with some of these designs – TekRex seems really open to getting into all sorts of markets.
Do you have any specialties or specific areas of focus?
I’d say it would have to be product design. I love getting to iterate on a concept, especially since the introduction of 3D printing. The way that has revolutionized product design is really exciting. Beyond product design, I’ve spent about the same amount of time during my career being a fabricator as I have a designer. This experience has helped me understand how the things I design are made and assembled, the attention to detail and time it takes to complete these operations, and how to better design parts for manufacturability, reliability, and sustainability.
What particularly excites you to come work at TekRex?
It has to be the 3D printing capabilities that we have. As soon as you design something, you can have a real physical iteration of it in your hands within hours, and so you can immediately know “what do I need to change to get the desired effect or the desired function”, and within a matter of days you can have that. [Before access to 3D printing] it would be years or months before you could really see the end result and there would have been thousands of dollars invested into tooling to get the thing in your hands. And then when changes were needed it would cost thousands and thousands of dollars.
Here, we really seem free to push the envelope on designs as far as product design and making the best product possible. [I love] the ability to pretty much go anywhere with some of these designs – TekRex seems really open to getting into all sorts of markets. You know, using the pandemic as an example, there have been a lot of shortages of products and with 3D printing we have the ability to really close that gap.
What areas are you looking forward to expanding at TekRex?
There are still areas of 3D printing and design that are evolving right now, which I’d love to pursue. Specifically I’m interested in how 3D printing can help with the rapid development of products, not just in the prototyping space, but in the actual making of molds.
You know, there’s a lot of different kinds of engineering folks, but there’s always a problem to solve and you almost always have to get pretty creative with it.
What industries do you find most interesting or rewarding to work on?
I love solving all sorts of problems, but I think something where I know that I’m helping other people the most. I like to be a part of something that I can get behind ethically. That, or something that I feel like is going to change the trajectory of technology in such a way that it’s better. I’m a big proponent of sustainability.
What are some things you wish the average person knew about your line of work?
Just how much creativity is involved. You know, there’s a lot of different kinds of engineering folks, but there’s always a problem to solve and you almost always have to get pretty creative with it.
So, this last question has become a bit of a tradition for us. What is the one tool you can’t live without?
Tape measure, for sure.