From intern to certified functional safety engineer at BRACE automotive development
'I don’t wear a yellow cap, that’s the difference between a safety engineer and a functional safety engineer', is the simple explanation of Avinash Varadarajan about his function at BRACE Automotive. A story of coincidence, professional personality and raising bars.
'What would you do if you were driving 160 at the highway and you realize that your steering wheel is locked?’, asks Avinash.
'First your brain understands the situation, you probably panic and then your response would be to brake. All this happens in a couple of seconds. I try to imagine myself to be in somebody else’s situation, to empathize. This is a crucial part in the process of calculating risks. The behavior of the system and the human being who is using the system are my objects of interests. Why is the system or human being behaving like they are behaving? ' This is the short version of the task of Functional Safety Engineer. A function where there is no room for failure.
Love at first sight
The answer to the question on why he chose to focus on automotive is a hard one. It’s a story of coincidence, instead of his work, not a calculated decision.
‘In India, where I come from, your grades give you some opportunities for which universities you can choose. I had three options: construction, mechanical engineering and automotive engineering technology. I did a test on the computer and automotive came out, so I started my bachelor in automotive engineering.’
The meeting with BRACE Automotive in Eindhoven was a coincidence as well. Finishing his master at the Technical University of Eindhoven (TU/e) Avinash decided to send in an idea for the TU/e Contest. ‘I have sent in a kind of a dating app, something that got nothing to do with automotive. The innovation - that distinguish itself from app’s like Tinder - was the idea of real-time dating. You have your profile on the app and for-example, when you are walking in the city-centre, the app sends a signal when someone who passes by is a match. So both of you will turn around and it’s love at first sight.'
During the TU/e contest Avinash got in contact with Frank Steeghs from ACE Engineering & Consultancy. He was one of the coaches of the contest and he connected him with BRACE Automotive, a sister organization of ACE, both located in the same office in Eindhoven. A meeting was quickly arranged. A so called professional love at first sight.
Professionals with personality
‘I met some colleagues from BRACE and had the opportunity to have a discussion with them. They gave me different perspectives from their own background. The problem was equal but each solution different.’ This multi-perspective way of working and thinking, and the space for each human being was what impressed Avinash. ‘BRACE is a place where professional knowledge and each individual personality is appreciated.’ Avinash finished his thesis at BRACE and after graduation he started working as a Functional Safety Engineer.
Running a government
Clearly both technical as social skills are crucial for working as a Functional Safety Engineer. Avinash uses the metaphor of running a small government. ‘Each project starts with a concept, an idea. To deliver a good solution you need information from experts, from all the partners who are involved. The engineers, the conceivers, etc. So my communication skills have to be excellent. There are no fixed rules, so each and every project you start in a different way; searching for solutions.’
At the moment Avinash is working on the mirror replacement project. A project that searches for a way to improve the sight of the side mirror for trucks for example. ‘When you are driving a big truck and you turn backwards, you see the back of your own truck instead of the space around the truck. We are at the moment experimenting with an innovative technology that replaces the mirrors with camera’s. It is a challenging project because it is totally new. There isn’t a similar system. And if I don’t know how a system behaves, I can’t calculate the risks and I don’t know if it’s safe.’
In this challenging project Avinash is gaining his own knowledge by speaking with, for example, software engineers. 'I try to get as much as information as possible.'
The period of getting information and calculate risks is most of the time behind a computer or in face to face conversations. But if you want to guarantee safety, you need to test the system. ‘For example, if we want to improve the safety of a car system, a colleague will drive in a controlled surrounding, so we can test it.'
The automotive industry is an internationally challenging business. International meetings - digital and sometimes physically - are part of the job. ’Sometimes it is easier, more productive to speak to each other face to face. Then I will have to travel to the US, for example for a meeting. For me it is a pleasant part, since I like to travel and meet people from all over the world.’
The life-working balance is sometimes a struggle, due to time pressure but also through a personal drive. ‘Maybe it is a bit of an addiction’, is Avinash thinking out loudly. ‘I can’t switch off when I’m at home. I really have a drive to solve, so in that way it eats time from my personal life. But that’s why I don’t where a yellow cap. ;-)’
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