Cole Houston is surprised by how much he learns on the job.
"I'm using some of what I learned in college, but I'm learning so much on the job as knowledge gets passed on by senior engineers," he said.
Houston is an associate design engineer at Newell Brands in Chicago. He has a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering, concentrating in product design, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Cole was born in New York, and both of his parents are retired ballet dancers. His younger siblings are either in the arts or some form of engineering.
What was your first plastics job and why were you interested in the industry? This is my first job in the plastics industry. I became interested in the industry when I realized that working with injection molded plastic is the best way to build products that people will use and love every single day.
Greatest achievement? Successfully working with industrial design and industry partners to introduce new processes and geometry into a complex design for a new marker.
Biggest failure and what it taught you? My biggest failure was during one of my summer internships where I worked for a startup trying to design a rugged hard case for a monitoring system in extreme environments. I didn't solve the problem very well (if at all, in my estimation). From this I learned that in order to solve a problem, you need to actually have all the equipment as well as be able to be on-site in order to understand how your product will be used. A lack of proper knowledge is highly detrimental to creating a functioning product.
What is your current challenge at work? Managing communication and expectations with brand teams to develop challenging new products under very tight timelines.
What emerging technology or market most interests you? Laser cutting, especially as newer tabletop laser cutters come onto the market.
What advice would you give to a person considering a career in the plastics industry? Get an internship to figure out what part of the plastics industry you enjoy best. Even as an engineer, there are so many different opportunities and challenges that you can solve. Find what excites you so that you always have a motivation to fall back on when the process becomes challenging.
If you were CEO of a company, what would you do first? I would look at the R&D department's five-to-10-year plan. I'd make sure we have one, that it's focused on the proper technologies and innovations, and then make sure that they have the appropriate financial and personnel support.
What job do you really want to have in the future? I would love to be an early-stage design engineer for a consumer goods company. I love solving the problems that arise with developing a new product and using CAD and prototyping to come to the perfect solution.