Member Profile: Curtis Barbre, R&D Engineer
Curtis Barbre is a longtime member of the informal community. Previously, he has worked on medical devices and electric vehicles at informal. Today, he works for AssetWatch leading their mechanical engineering team. He recently sat down with us to talk about the differences between startups and established companies, what AssetWatch is currently working on, and why the informal community is so unique. Check it out!
What got you into hardware? And what keeps you here?
I’ve always loved building things. I was always building when I was a kid, whether that was taking apart a lawn mower or figuring out how to fix it. Or breaking something and then fixing it.
At the end of the day in hardware, you can measure your success and you can point at it. You can say, “I built that” or “it used to do this and now it does that.” Afterwards, you have a beautiful new creation. It’s a very satisfying thing for me to just apply that skill set to some new gadget. That’s the underlying inspiration—I’m always learning and it’s always satisfying.
What projects are you currently working on?
I’m working full-time for a company called AssetWatch headquartered in Columbus, Ohio. We provide an end-to-end solution that monitors the health and condition of equipment real-time, including the hardware, software, communication network, and condition monitoring service. Any machine with a motor – blowers, fans, conveyors, extruders, whatever. One of our condition monitoring offerings includes an internet-enabled, battery-operated, waterproof thermal and vibration sensor that needs to be able to live in some of the toughest environments — paper mills, sawmills, food service. We do full-time monitoring of real-world production assets and the mix of hardware combined with software and service is what really keeps everyday interesting at AssetWatch
We then use machine learning to make condition-monitoring engineers’ jobs more straightforward and make their diagnoses more certain. Rather than taking humans out of the loop, we use AI to augment the recommendations they make to our customers. That’s been a really interesting part of the project.
I do the mechanicals for AssetWatch. We already have a sensor that took the company through the pandemic and from a tiny research-based startup to basically the global competitor for industrial maintenance. We’re constantly improving and revising our products for better performance and durability, communication protocols that work in various environments, and upgrading previous versions which keeps me busy.
What differences do you find when working with startups versus companies that are maybe a few steps past that stage?
Essentially, one of the biggest challenges when working in hardware is always correctly identifying a problem. Then, identifying potential root causes of the problem. And then, adopting a path that’ll actually work to solve that issue. The concept of ironing-out processes, documentation, revision structures, and internal quality — those kinds of things aren’t usually the first conversations in a growing company’s mind. They may have one person in each of those categories that is taking care of everything that needs to be done.
As a company grows, they start coordinating more and more people across departments in an effective way. That’s exactly what we’re doing at AssetWatch, and it’s inspiring to see how methodical and planned out that kind of growth is. It puts a lot of confidence in the employees. Everybody in the company has this kind of “band together” attitude, which helps with collaboration and keeps us moving fast with new ideas. We hire people with innovation, creativity and building in their DNA.
It’s interesting to work with a scaling startup — that’s one thing that’s different about AssetWatch. I was about the 99th or 100th employee, which is a little bit bigger than most of the startups that I typically work with. We have an exciting roadmap and we’re growing fast.
What drew you to informal?
Over the years what was originally just a small New York hardware community has grown and grown. There’s a whole bunch of folks that I mostly know through informal I met through Hardware Meetup.
I really value the expertise. I can just reach out to the group of freelancers at informal and say, “Hey, has anybody dealt with this regulation before?” “Anybody dealt with this firmware protocol before?” “Anybody ever had to jump from a hundred to a hundred thousand units in one shot?” You can ask those specific questions to a particular group of people that are just as focused on hardware product development as you are. And I can’t think of another community with that kind of depth and interest in the subject. Everything from “What’s that beeping noise on my street?” to tool recommendations. The community is really powerful.
We’re always looking for engineers, designers, brand strategists, and writers to join our team. If you’ve got a skill that you think we need, send us a message! We’d love to chat. And of course, if you’ve got a hardware product or product idea you want to bring to market, we have just the experts to help!