(Over) engineering life (Over) engineering life

(Over) engineering life

Meet 4 engineers who tackle quirky problems with smarts, determination


Whether it’s building bridges, designing rockets or powering homes, engineers have big jobs. Sometimes their ingenuity follows them home from the office. In honor of National Engineers Week (Feb. 21-27), here’s a look at four Duke Energy engineers who never met a process flow they didn’t like.

Making snow in Florida

Engineering technologist Andy Dourm and his children had never seen snow – until he made it fall himself. That was back in 2010.

It took a few tries. But after rigging an air compressor, an industrial pressure washer and a gardening hose into a homemade snow machine, he managed to blanket his lawn in Crystal River, Fla., with several inches of snow.

“I fooled Mother Nature at her own game,” he said.

Neighbors gawked. The pizza man thought it was soap suds. And editors of the Citrus County Chronicle published photos of the subtropical snow on the front page.

Now when the temperature dips, neighbors know they’ll have to fall asleep to the roar of the do-it-yourself snow machine and squeals of joy as the Dourm kids hurl snowballs late into the night.

Brewing with a deep freezer and ink pen

With the rise of craft beer, more than 1.2 million Americans now concoct their own homemade brews. And there’s no need to order a home brewing kit if you can build one yourself.

Nuclear engineer Tim Rogers of Charlotte brews oatmeal stouts and IPAs with an assortment of household objects.

A deep freezer that he wired with a temperature regulator keeps his brew at the right temperature while fermenting. Meanwhile, an ink pen jammed into a tube aerates his beer as it moves from one storage container to another, introducing essential oxygen to the brewing process.

Rogers is saving money on equipment and actual beer, estimating each bottle of home brew costs around $1. “It’s hard to find good beer this cheap,” he said.

With each batch making about 50 bottles, Rogers has become a popular guy to invite to parties.

Removing stumps with physics

When Hurricane Fran toppled a pine tree onto his workshop in Raleigh in 1996, Randy Paulson took a break from power plant engineering and tried logging, his great grandfather’s trade.

Branches and the trunk weren’t problems. He quickly cleared them. The complication was the big, bent stump. Most people in the suburbs would hire a tree service. But Paulson devised a fix inspired by physics knowledge and years of sailboat racing.

After estimating the tension needed to yank out the stump, he grabbed two winches, logging chains and some steel cable. Winching from two nearby trees, he dug roots, added tension, released and repeated until the stump rose from the earth.

His neighbor, who had watched all day, came out to applaud the approach. Paulson’s family – used to his engineer indulgences – rolled their eyes.

Quilting with math and science

Power reliability engineer by day, quilter by night.

Rebecca Lewis uses Mathcad, Siemens NX and other engineering software to design intricate quilt patterns and calculate the fabric needed for each creation.

“Most engineers don’t care about making blankets. They’ll just buy one from the store,” she said. “And most creative people can get frustrated and overwhelmed when trying to determine how to measure, cut and sew fabric together for a new pattern.”

Not Lewis.

The Lake Mary, Fla., resident worked at Jo-Ann Fabric for years between engineering classes at the University of Central Florida, selling her patterns online and at craft fairs to earn spending money. She suspended this side business after becoming a full-time engineer, but you can still admire her greatest hits on Pinterest.

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