Behind the scenes at NASA with a handful of engineers is mind-meltingly amazing!
Recently I was invited to participate in a rare experience: a behind the scenes trip to the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The occasion was a gathering of engineers who were all lucky enough to win a contest called Speed2Design, put on by a company called Littelfuse. When I was invited, I had not yet heard of Littelfuse, nor Speed2Design, but I had sure heard of NASA! I quickly agreed to participate and waited patiently for the time to come.
When I arrived in Houston for the event, I was met not by the suited PR team I had visualized but by an excited group of people as eager as I was to get to NASA. This wasn't a press junket. This was a group of people who were the lucky winners of the contest and representatives from Littelfuse, all so excited to be visiting NASA that they could hardly contain themselves.
Before going to NASA, I sat down with Chad Marak, director of technical marketing for the Littlefuse's Semiconductor Business Unit, and between long conjectures about what cool things we'd see the next day, managed to get some background on Littelfuse and what exactly was going on.
Caleb Kraft: What is Littelfuse?
Chad Marak: Typically, if people know who we are at all it is because they are building something with our products, or they live in the Chicago area where we have some history. Littelfuse started in 1920s, making fuses for the automotive market. Since then, we've evolved in many ways. We've added new product lines and areas of interest, so we've had 80 plus years of development. We've always focused on circuit protection. Basically, if it has electricity going through it, we want to protect it. Our products ensure not only human safety, but also reliability of products in the field.
We're everywhere really. We're trying to keep your Internet from going down, we don't want you to miss that big play on a football game if your TV should get a little surge, we certainly don't want you to pull a brand-new product out of the box to find that it has been fried during packing due to static!
Caleb Kraft: So it sounds like you're doing more than just fuses now.
Chad Marak: We're doing much more than fuses. Littelfuse got into the business of semiconductors about 20 years ago. Usually we're mostly concerned with overvoltage protection, but we also deal with what we call "power control," so if you have any type of heating element in your house, like a water heater or coffee machine, that heater is typically triggered or controlled by something we design.
Caleb Kraft: OK, we're here in Houston to go visit NASA. How are you connected with them?
Chad Marak: Our products are spread in all kinds of places, but really why we chose NASA wasn't to specifically showcase our stuff. Really, we just think NASA embodies things that we like as a company. We're engineering-driven, obsessed with research, and most importantly, we feel like the critical nature of their work really exemplifies what we are as a company. If you consider the importance of their equipment working correctly through the incredibly rough treatment that it gets, you can really comprehend the value of Littelfuse.
Caleb Kraft: Why is Littelfuse running this contest? It sounds different than other contests I've seen. I mean last time you guys visited the Indy 500!
Chad Marak: The simplest way to answer that is just to stop for a second and imaging asking someone "who is Littelfuse?" The name usually doesn't ring any bells. If you think of Apple or Samsung, people know the name because they use a product or two from them every day. Littelfuse doesn't have quite that name recognition. Most companies would just advertise. Maybe they would try to find some kind of reason to get into the news or something, make some big product announcement or something like that. Littelfuse however, really wants to support the engineering community. We choose to get our name out there by giving an incredible experience to engineers.
Aside from the contest itself, we have put together this Speed2Design webpage to work as a tool to help engineers. It gives them quick access to solve their problems. They can find design guides, design tools, and quickly get to part numbers to speed up the process. We have people on staff to actually help people get to the root of their needs, people who are engineers themselves, not just sales people. While we could have just built this site and called it good enough, we really felt that the ability to give these incredible experiences was something we had to do.
Caleb Kraft: You mentioned that people don't recognize the name Littelfuse as much as they would recognize someone like Apple or Samsung. Why would they know your name in the first place?
Chad Marak: Well, they're using our products! There's a good chance that anyone who is going to read your interview will be using our products right at that moment and not even be aware. Look around, your washing machine, your laptop, your coffee machine, your alarm system, water heater, television, car, everywhere. Anything that has electricity going through it in their home or work probably has some of our research and hard work inside it. We are actually quite integral in people's lives.
Now that the event is over, and I'm slowly processing all the incredibly amazing things I was privileged to see, I can say that Chad and Littelfuse have really hit the nail on the head here. More companies should take a page from the Littelfuse book on how to properly grow your brand awareness in a way that benefits the community.
There was actually one thing that really kind of blew my mind about this trip that I think Littelfuse may not have even expected. The winners were floored with the amazing things they got to see and learn, but the engineers at NASA were also so excited to have a group of engineers standing there that they could share their work with! The NASA engineers were consistently (pleasantly) shocked by the questions coming from the crowd or the enthusiasm over some aspect that your typical tourist would have completely overlooked. Their faces would light up and they would jump into details that were obviously more technical that your typical explanation. One of them actually, gasping for breath, exclaimed, "This is so great! I've never been able to tell that story before!" I honestly walked away from some of the sessions feeling like the NASA engineers were almost winners, too. I know they certainly have a new appreciation for Littlefuse, and that has completely earned my respect for the company.
Keep your eyes on this space, I've taken a lot of pictures and have many stories to tell.
— Caleb Kraft, Chief Community Editor, EE Times