Suzanne Jenniches says: Today after a 41 year-career, I am as passionate about engineering as I was the first day as a test engineer and that is what I share with young people. I want all young people to recognize that engineering is an option. . . Because it is the best career that there is.
Jenniches began her illustrious engineering career as a – biology teacher! She more than made up for what some might consider “a slow start” with an engineering career that many of us would want to emulate. When she received the American Society of Mechanical Engineer’s Kate Gleason Award in November 2015, she was recognized for “outstanding leadership in manufacturing innovation; for setting the highest standards of excellence in producibility engineering; and for tireless efforts to increase women’s participation in STEM careers.”
Jenniches has been a leader in manufacturing innovation and producibility engineering for over three decades. As an associate test engineer at Westinghouse Electronics (later Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems), she provided the inspiration and leadership to introduce new manufacturing, automated design and test procedures to the production of one of Westinghouse’s premiere products, airborne command and control radar systems (AWACS) and the Offensive Radar System for the B-1B Bomber. The new manufacturing and automated test processes initiated for the B-1B bomber was a major factor in reducing the cost of complex systems such as the radar Electronically Agile Beam Antenna. These production methods were extended to the F-16 family, AWACS radar and numerous other classified front line systems in use today. Progression from mechanically scanned to phased array (electronically scanned) antennas was a huge leap in technology and the first in the world to be flown in production. As important, the use of this leading edge technology which significantly increased reliability and performance over the then current technology was delivered to the customer at the same cost. These radars are used at a large number of worldwide locations protecting US interests. As an example, NATO uses one for Search and Rescue Operations.
In 1989, Jenniches initiated discussions with the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) to solve functional problems in their fledgling mail sort system. Westinghouse was awarded a contract and Jenniches personally directed the application of sophisticated defense technology to the design, development and manufacture of a new revolutionary automated sorting system for the USPS that is in use today. Jenniches and her team’s commercial sort systems have had a worldwide impact on the efficiency and cost of rapidly moving mail and small packages. She introduced a defense manufacturing and production mentality into a very different industry. The previous USPS sorting system was not designed for interoperability of parts. This led to long periods of downtime, often as long as six months, for frequently needed repairs. By introducing configuration control and producibility to the new product, Jenniches’ team produced a jump-start kit with completely interchangeable parts that could be taken into the field. The changeover required only a very short downtime of two weeks in comparison to the former state-of-the-art process of over two months for the USPS.
Her team solved the problem of detecting anthrax in the mail in less than six months by putting a customized front end onto the sorting machine that would squeeze the envelope forcing air out so that the specially designed biological sniffer could determine if anthrax spores were in the envelope. An “anthrax sniffer” deployed in the Baltimore Post Office Processing and Distribution Center in 2010 has processed over 8 million pieces of mail without a detection failure.
The postal sort system technology was then extended to design and manufacture of an automated system for sorting and weighing small packages “on the fly” for FedEx at its Memphis sorting facility. The package sorting system for FedEx allows them to gain/maintain position as a lead player in expedited delivery service where time and accuracy are money.
Jenniches is a superb role model for women engineers and an outstanding ambassador for engineering as a profession. Throughout her career, Jenniches has also been a leader in encouraging young people to pursue careers in engineering. She has given more than one hundred talks to K-12 students on the importance of engineering as a career. She has testified before congressional committees and lobbied for bills to support STEM education. She initiated the NAE website “Engineer Girl” and has spent more than sixteen years chairing this sub-committee.
Thank you to regular GGSTEM contributer, Jill S. Tietjen, P.E., F.SWE for this post.
Adapted from an article titled “Engineering Solutions from AWACS to Anthrax,” by Jill S. Tietjen, P.E. published in SWE: Magazine of the Society of Women Engineers, Winter 2016.