Young Minds Explore Deep Science for New Space Material

When most people think of entry level positions, they think of mindless tasks like data entry, food runs and busy work.  Not at Weldaloy Specialty Forgings.


From forging copper to superalloys, millennials at Weldaloy are working on deep science for deep space.


When looking to hire a number of experienced metallurgists to build out their technology group, Weldaloy was coming up empty after 6 months of exhaustive searching.  Finally, Ram Canumalla, metallurgist and vice president of technology suggested a new approach. “Let’s stop wasting time!” Canumalla suggested to general manager and vice president Kurt Ruppenthal. “Get me some youngsters. Those are the future of the country.  Young, curious, energetic. They want to do something… they’re hungry to learn.  They’re open-minded. They’re creative. They want to do something new. I imagine myself in their shoes when I was that age.”


Canumalla, 66, joined Weldaloy in June 2017. A former Air Force project scientist for Cleveland State University (CSU) and NASA, with 45 years’ experience in teaching, research, and industry applications, Canumalla holds a Ph.D. in metallurgical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology in Varanasi, a master’s in materials technology from the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai, and a bachelor’s degree from the National Institute of Technology in Warangal.


Born in a town near Chennai, India, Canumalla was the son of a lawyer who saw education as the pathway to opportunity. After completing his undergraduate work, he was considering a job at the prestigious Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in Mumbai. Shortly after this thought, he asked his father for advice.


“This is the age to learn more,” his father said.  “Go for your studies. Don’t do a job. Your entire life, you’ll do the job. So, forget about the job, let it be any prestigious place or anything, but do your studies.”


A Ph. D wasn’t enough.  He went on to Berlin for postdoctoral studies. After his postdoctoral studies on sabbatical, Canumalla was recruited by the government of India to head the central laboratory at combat aircraft products and processes development for the largest aircraft defense industry in South East Asia, namely Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, Bangalore.


After completing the project in South East Asia, Canumalla took a position in 1999 with the CSU and NASA to develop coatings on aero engine blades.


Canumalla has always desired to learn as much as he could and thrived as a student.  But now the student has become the teacher, or more accurately the mentor.  One of his prize pupils is Phil Preuss, who is in his last year at Lawrence Tech University, studying mechanical engineering.  Preuss once dreamed of landing a job at one of the Big Three, like his father and grandfather before him. Not anymore. His new passion is designing processes to forge different metals.


“I had a previous internship (at a Tier 1 supplier),” Preuss said.  “However, the type of work that I was doing there was just Excel (spreadsheets). It was really boring, actually. My boss was located out of a different plant, so communication was a really big negative there, I would say.”


Frustrated by that first “traditional” engineering internship, Preuss decided to look elsewhere. After interviewing at Weldaloy for one of his classes, Preuss decided to apply.


“I’ve always liked smaller companies. It’s a lot more personal, as opposed to feeling like a number and just trying to hit the numbers for the shareholders or something like that. So, it is nice to have higher-ups who truly care about you and your development…and then here, I have Ram constantly sitting right behind me, looking at my screen. So, it’s easy to just turn around and ask him for a technical question.”


Preuss is one of four young metallurgists working under Canumalla’s tutelage. Ruppenthal sees the value in bringing in young talent to Weldaloy. He believes that younger minds will change the culture of the company for the better, as well as positively affecting the financial outlook for years to come. The bright minds on Canumalla’s team are focusing on forged parts particularly in the semiconductor, aviation, and aerospace industries.


Of course, everyone is on their own for lunch and has to fix their own coffee, but Ruppenthal and Canumalla will happily take the tradeoff.


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Katelynne McDougall
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