“Tesla’s mission is plastered all over the place: ‘Accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy,’” said Tyler Aymond ‘10 BFA, a senior manufacturing engineer with the revolutionary electric vehicle, energy storage, and solar company. “Almost everyone who works at Tesla is here for the mission. People are impassioned to fully contribute not because they want to get a promotion, but because they want to change the world in some small way.”
Tesla has already changed the world in big ways. Although electric cars have been around since the 1800s, and have come in and out of fashion, the California-based innovator has made them cool, capable of traveling farther and faster and mostly self-driving. Since its Roadster launched in 2009, the company has captured nearly a quarter of the all-electric market, sold nearly half-a-million vehicles in 2020 (a 36% increase from 2019), was the first U.S. company to sell cars directly to consumers, is the largest manufacturer in California, and once complete, its Gigafactory outside of Reno, Nevada—where Tyler works—will be the biggest building in the world, and entirely powered by renewable energy sources.
“Tesla is growing at an insane rate. It’s shocking,” Ty said. “The scope of work people do is crazy too, it’s massive.”
What he does is work with the Tesla Model 3 drive inverter, which is also implemented into some variants of the company’s Model S, X and Y cars. “Basically, it is a piece of the drive unit—the stator, rotor, inverter and the gear case for the vehicles. The inverter converts DC power from the battery into AC power that goes to the stator,” he explained. “It’s a really cool part of the car. It’s definitely the most complex piece of the drive unit and super interesting to work on.” Fully assembled drive units are then shipped to Tesla’s Fremont, California, factory to be installed into vehicles.
Gigafactory Nevada (one of soon-to-be five worldwide) also produces Tesla’s vehicle battery modules/packs, and energy products, which include Powerwalls that store energy from Tesla’s technologically advanced and affordable solar roofs, Power Packs, and its Megapack, an enormous grid scale battery the size of a semi-tractor trailer, which is installed in arrays.
“Elon’s master plan of the Tesla product portfolio over the past ten years was all laid out before they even got started,” said Aymond. “It was like the Tesla S, 3, X, Y—all of these cars were part of the plan and tangent to them was energy products, solar, and grid-scale batteries. It’s a world domination perspective.”
Of course, is Elon Musk, the unpredictable centibillionaire who is also the mastermind behind Space X, Neuralink (which is developing implantable brain–machine interfaces) and The Boring Company, currently tunneling under Los Angeles (“To solve the problem of soul-destroying traffic, roads must go 3D, which means either flying cars or tunnels are needed. Unlike flying cars, tunnels are weatherproof, out of sight, and won’t fall on your head,” states the website).
“Innovation at Tesla is about aggressively pursuing the best option,” Aymond explained. “If you have a creative solution to a problem, which is my strength as an engineer; if you have something that is better than the status quo, they’re all ears. You just have to provide evidence as to why it’s better. Part of Tesla’s whole mission is to remain a scrappy company that can do the most with the least—that’s where a lot of the cool innovations come through.
“To Elon’s words, designing one of anything is easy; it’s the high volume manufacturing that is really challenging.”
Ty explained that he often finds himself realizing he is brainstorming or problem-solving with colleagues who graduated from Stanford, Harvard or other Ivy Leagues. “Northern grads don’t often realize just how smart they are, because we’re from a small state school, but I provide ideas of equal value. That’s embodied in Tesla too, education is important—but what can you actually contribute?”
Aymond did a 360 in his own life to figure out what he could contribute.
While he had always been mechanically inclined, at NMU he was totally into ceramics, and earned a degree in art and design, with a focus on pottery. “I moved to Northern from Minneapolis and didn’t know a single person there. I had never been to Marquette or the U.P. Now it’s instilled in me and changed me forever. I don’t know what it is about the U.P., but it’s like a magical realm of the world,” he recalled from the desert landscape of Sparks, Nevada.
“After I graduated and fell into the financial woes of trying to sell my work, I was simultaneously becoming enlightened to the true effects of climate change. Ceramics is inherently wasteful—in terms of the amount of energy it takes to fire a kiln to 2,300 degrees, and the raw materials. I became impassioned about the environment and thinking about what I could do as a human—where I could contribute to something that I cared about.
“I made probably the most abrupt decision in my life, to go back to school for mechanical engineering, with the intent to battle climate change. I went back to Northern for a year seeking a degree in mechanical engineering and technology, and later transferred to Michigan Tech for a year. After two years post bachelor schooling and two summer internships, I was offered a job—so I’m an engineering school dropout.”
That first job was based in Silicon Valley. Then he got an opportunity to interview at Tesla, through a friend. He got the gig, and within a couple of months he was promoted to an associate process engineer.
Now he shares this advice: “As part of the bigger picture, there are so many ways for people to get involved in sustainability, especially with job opportunities in data analytics, software engineering or PLC programming (for industrial computers). Follow your passion and it can lead you to whatever you want to commit to.”