Out-of-this-world career opportunity

In this Big Picture Interview, a “30 Under 30” honoree says he never imagined where welding would take him.

Justin Wenning is a welding engineer at Fabrisonic, a Columbus, OH-based specialist in 3D metal printing services. As part of his role, he helps build radiation shielding testing components for satellites – and he’s leading a project for NASA that looks to extend the capabilities of heat exchangers. In January, he was named to Forbes’ 2017 30 Under 30 list in the manufacturing and industry sector. Wenning, 24, spoke with Plant Services recently about what led him to a career in welding and why he’d encourage young people to explore manufacturing technology and engineering careers.

PS: With all we hear these days about how young people don’t know much about (and thus aren’t interested in) manufacturing careers, how did you get into the field?

JW: I guess from a very young age I knew I was going to go into engineering. I came to Ohio State because they had every kind of engineering. (Wenning graduated from The Ohio State University in 2015 with a B.S. in welding engineering.) I knew I was coming for either material science or mechanical, but when I got here I learned of this fancy-dancy program called welding engineering that allowed me to do the best of both worlds.

PS: How did you end up at Fabrisonic? Had you had exposure to 3D printing while you were in school?

JW: I’ve been at Fabrisonic a little over two years now; I actually started while I was in school. Mark (Norfolk), my boss and Fabrisonic’s CEO, was teaching a class to our welding engineering group, and I just so happened to be sitting in the front row. We did a plant tour to review the equipment, and that’s when me and Mark kind of hit it off.

I hadn’t had personal experience with 3D printing, hands-on-wise, but I was extremely fascinated with it from a technological standpoint, and as a metallurgist, the idea of being able to 3D-print metals is extremely exciting. You’re at the forefront of innovation, really, tackling technological barriers left and right.

PS: How did Fabrisonic’s work with NASA come about, and how did you, by 24, come to be leading a project for NASA?

JW: (The NASA work) came to us through a series of SBIRs (solicitations to work on questions and technologies the agency would like to see investigated).

Most of our work with NASA is space applications. A lot of the tests that we do mimic high pressure in vacuums at elevated temperatures to simulate different environments that these parts might be tested in. In my time at Fabrisonic, I’ve really focused on building internal geometries, in particular heat exchangers. So it’s a very niche skill set that I’ve become good at, so that’s why this project in particular was assigned to me.
We’ve made leaps and bounds in the last two years, and it is extremely exciting to see where we’ve come and the track laid out for where we’re going to go. We’ll see if we can get a heat exchanger out of this world in the next couple of years. That’s my big goal.

PS: What excites you about your work, besides getting to help investigate and develop technologies for NASA?

JW: Fabrisonic being a startup of less than 10 people, you learn how to wear every single hat and you learn as best you can. On the day-to-day, I go from being an extremely hands-on applications engineer to dealing with customers and sales, all the way around. I have a lot of different exposure than I ever would have dreamed that I’d have at this age.

PS: What would you say to kids (and their parents) who might be on the fence about a career in manufacturing generally, or an “old-school” discipline like welding specifically?

JW: A lot of kids in high school who are trying to perceive where they want to go, a lot of them aren’t exactly looking for the hands-on portion. But what I have to say to that is getting to tackle the projects and the problems hands-on is extremely rewarding, and it just allows you a whole different kind of thing that you’re not going to learn from sitting in front of a computer, for example.

One of my first projects here at Fabrisonic, even as an intern, allowed me to produce some parts that I can say are not exactly on earth anymore. I never would have guessed I’d be producing parts that are out of this world.

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