Auto People:
Factory job during school kickstarted a design career

What?s the secret to success in your career? For Kaci Hrynewich, it was staying in a job she initially didn?t want to do.

About 20 years ago, she was in a factory building auto parts. Today, she works within Ford?s program management, where she has engineered such projects as the company?s hands-free liftgate, which opens when you kick your foot under the bumper.

It was a logical progression from her first engineering work on bumper fascias, where she spent eight years.

?I?m now part of the program management team for the whole vehicle, making sure that timing and each milestone is met, and everything is kept on track,? Hrynewich says. ?When you?re engineering a fascia, you are responsible for your own little world, and you get comfortable in what you have to do.

?But now you go to Program and you?re working with all the engineers on that whole vehicle. If the team starts slipping, we?re the people that the chief says, ?Go help them.? You don?t plan your day. Your day is what?s falling off the table.?

Hrynewich, 43, still lives near her hometown of Windsor and commutes across the border to Dearborn each day. When she left high school, she worked for an auto parts supplier, but had no intention of staying in the automotive field.

?I was registered at the University of Windsor, and I didn?t want to be on the (factory) floor,? she says. ?I wanted something else.

?My shift ran 3 to 11, and my university classes were during the day. It was a means to an end. I worked steady afternoons for six years to get my diploma,? she recalls. ?It was a job I hated, but it was the best thing, because when you pay for (education) yourself, you care what those marks are.?

She majored in social sciences, but just as she was about to graduate, the parts manufacturer offered her a position in the quality-control lab. Taking courses and seminars, she worked her way up the ladder into testing and engineering. She then went to work for parts supplier Magna International before ending up at Ford.

She started in Ford?s engineering department for fascias, where she quickly learned that, although they may look simple, these bumper sections are actually very complex.

?There are all the components that go into it; the grilles, the fog lamps, all those bezels, and you have to design those in,? she says. ?The requirements are different on a car, SUV, or truck for impact testing, and for ground clearance, and the units have to pass these.

?There?s a lot of stuff on the back of a fascia that people don?t realize, like the wiring harness and park assist. All the components have individual requirements. And there?s a challenge in the craftsmanship and appearance. The fascia for the Explorer was one of the first I did on my own, and then the Escape. I?m very proud of those two.?

The hands-free liftgate, which Hrynewich loves to use herself when taking her son and his gear to hockey, posed quite a challenge for her department.

The gate opens when users break an electric field with their feet. Hrynewich?s team had to figure out where to put the module so other metal components wouldn?t affect it, and how far away the user had to be for it to work.

Even the paint had to be tested, since metallic paints contain tiny flecks of metal to improve the appearance that could potentially have affected the sensor field.

?It?s easy to see the guidelines, but then you have to put them into the vehicle you?re trying to engineer,? Hrynewich says. ?We had to package that and still make sure it functioned properly.?

The system was a joint venture between Ford and German-based supplier Brose, which made the electronics.

?We (made) the first vehicle within Ford and Brose, to package it in a fascia system, so we learned together what to do and not to do,? she says.

Her previous job at a part supplier was a considerable asset, she says. ?You can see the other side, and you know the questions to ask, because you know how it operates. It?s completely different from the OEM (automaker).

?Everything I?ve done has been invaluable to what I?m doing today, from the factory floor to the other side at the OEM,? she says. ?If you?d told me 20 years ago I?d be into automotive as much as I am, I?d say you were crazy. But I just love my job.?

  • Auto People:<br>Factory job during school kickstarted a design career
  • Auto People:<br>Factory job during school kickstarted a design career Kaci Hrynewich, program management at Ford Motor Company/
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