T&D World Magazine

Ron Schwartz: 'In God We Trust; All Others Bring Data'

Ron Schwartz’s position as vice president of Quality at Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories (SEL) makes him an excellent choice to speak at this year’s SEL Modern Solutions Power Systems Conference, June 5-7, 2013, in Chicago, Illinois.

Schwartz has led SEL’s quality systems and practices for delivering reliable products worldwide for 14 years. He works with teams of engineers who understand that delivering consistently high quality requires simplicity of design, the highest quality materials, and testing well beyond specifications, including forcing failures and learning from those failures.

Schwartz likes to say, “In God we trust; all others bring data,” which communicates that improving quality requires us to focus on measurements and data—not opinion. Delivering high-availability electric power to users demands not only knowing the apparatus inside and out but understanding reliability when it comes to power system components. Analysis tools, such as reliability block diagrams and fault trees, are also useful to model and evaluate tradeoffs. This is Schwartz's area of expertise.

When asked what he likes most about his current job, Schwartz says, “I enjoy seeing others acquire quality analysis skills, where they get to the root cause of problems and implement process changes that eliminate them forever. Also, every week, I find a new challenge or opportunity that I may not have known about. I get to research that and learn something new.”

During the 1970s and 80s, Schwartz worked as a Quality and Reliability Manager at a semiconductor plant and as a component reliability engineer for an electronics instrument company and a computer company. While Ron still worked in the computer industry, he picked up quality principles from the book World Class Manufacturing by Richard J. Schonberger.

In the text, Schonberger explains simple principles, including just-in-time manufacturing, mistake-proofing, posting process measurements, and problem solving. In September 1989, Schwartz shared the book with SEL President Ed Schweitzer who read it over the weekend and began implementing its practices the day after Labor Day. Within months, SEL’s product lead times dropped by 80 percent and quality skyrocketed.

Schwartz is originally from Dayton, Ohio. He earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Ohio State University in 1968 and his master’s from the University of Maryland in 1970, where he studied semiconductor physics and reliability of semiconductor devices.

Schwartz’s father was a chemical engineer and so were several of his friends. Like many engineers, he showed an interest in engineering at an early age. He liked electronics, and he built his first crystal set at age 8. At 12, he became a licensed amateur radio operator, and two years later, he constructed a bicycle-mounted amateur radio transmitter/receiver that he used to maintain contact with other local amateurs while delivering newspapers.

After high school, Schwartz landed a summer job where he helped run experiments using a plasma jet on heat shield materials for space reentry vehicles. There he discovered how much he enjoyed measuring the effects of high stress on various materials. It was during his first engineering job, when someone asked him to find out why some electronic components failed in service, that Ron found he liked the discovery process, which included disassembling components and examining them under a microscope.

One of the most important lessons Schwartz has learned from his career is that it is pivotal to have a quality commitment from senior management in order for a company to maintain excellent quality. According to Schwartz, “SEL is very fortunate to have Ed Schweitzer as a leader because he understands the comprehensive principles of quality.”

In his spare time, Schwartz still enjoys amateur radio and talking to other ham operators all over the world. He even travels to remote locations and meets the people he’s talked to over the radio. Ron enjoys snow skiing at Lookout Pass, sailing on Lake Coeur d’Alene, and golfing at Palouse Ridge Golf Course. He loves getting his tractor out to mow the field by his home. And he likes sawing logs for firewood and splitting them with his hydraulic wood splitter.

From a young age, everyone around Schwartz encouraged him to pursue a career in engineering. It was at around age 15 that he decided to follow his heart and seek a degree in electrical engineering. His goal then was the same as it is now: he hoped that with a degree in engineering he could help make the world a better place.

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