Brent Anderson is a partner and engineering manager at Aerospace Fabrication & Materials, a Farmington, Minn., company that specializes in the design, fabrication and installation of Multi-Layer Insulation (MLI) Blankets for use on spacecraft, launch vehicles and cryogenic applications. The company’s MLI blankets have been used on AMOS II and SCISAT I spacecraft as well as the International Space Station. Here, Anderson talks challenges, influences and how he found his niche in an industry that sends products “out of this world.”
How did you get involved in the company/industry?
I received a degree in Aerospace Engineering with an emphasis in Materials Science from the University of Minnesota. My first job after college was with a manufacturer of thin film metalized products and tapes. Our team built specially fabricated products using these core materials. After a decade, a group of us left that company to take advantage of a niche market in supplying Multi-Layer Insulation (MLI) Blankets to aerospace companies for satellites and rockets. The rest, as they say, is history.
What are the biggest challenges you face?
At work it is a challenge to identify qualified workers and continually find ways to uniquely motivate them.
What are the biggest rewards?
I enjoy seeing our workers succeed and grow in their position. Our intern program is one of the areas that is most rewarding. We have had several students work summer internships that grow into year-round internships and become full-time employment. Watching them learn and grow in their engineering skills and translate that into a full-time position is great.
Why did you join IFAI? Which services/benefits do you use the most?
We joined IFAI because we felt it was a good way to keep up with research and development in fabrics as well as manufacturing in soft good handling. We have connected with several companies through our association with IFAI.
What are your hobbies outside of work?
I enjoy skiing and playing hockey for exercise. I spend many weekends enjoying lake-cabin life with my family in northern Wisconsin. There are always activities to do in and around the lake. I also enjoy reading and photography.
What was the first job you ever had?
When I was a kid, I helped my older brother plant and tend a few acres of sweet corn. In the fall, he paid me to sell it door-to-door to all the houses in our small town. It was a lot of fun, and I made some money. As I recall, I spent it all at our local drug store soda fountain on chocolate malts.
What has been the most significant invention/technological advancement during your lifetime?
For me, it has to be the personal computer. I got my first Apple II in junior high. I was fascinated with it because of what you could do with it. You could write programs to solve problems. Obviously now, computers and computer code are absolutely everywhere and smaller, faster and cheaper. The smart phone I carry is light years more powerful than that first machine. Now these devices are indispensable. Looking back on that first computer though, you could feel that it was revolutionary.
Who has been your biggest influence, personally or professionally?
I would have to say my grandfather was my biggest influence. He was an entrepreneur. He started several different companies in different fields. The common thread was sales; he was a great salesman. He taught me the value of hard work and how to treat people.
What is number one on your bucket list?
You know, I’m not overly reckless, but I went skydiving one time in college. It was fun but I didn’t get the full effect of freefall. It was a static line jump. So I would have to say freefall skydiving with the ultimate goal of diving in a wing suit. That would be awesome!