Caitlin Oswald

For propelling jet innovation.

Caitlin Oswald
Prepare For Takeoff: The geared turbofan engines in Airbus regional jets will use 16% less fuel and significantly reduce CO2 emissions. [Airplane: Vera Storman, Getty Images]

When a new fleet of Airbus regional jets take off later this year, they will feature something new under their wings: geared turbofan engines. Possibly the most sustainable jet engine ever built, the GTF will use 16% less fuel and significantly reduce CO2 emissions–a breakthrough that was only possible via advances in 3-D–printing technology. Caitlin Oswald led the team that incorporated 3-D printing into the design process, looking at each part of a jet engine to determine if it could be better developed with the new technique. As a result, engineers were able to approach challenges in a completely different way. “They’re able to print a part to scale and hold it in their hand,” says Oswald. “They can really understand what it looks like and what the capabilities and limitations are.” Next, P&W is considering including 3-D–printed parts in the finished product.


Bonus Round

Where do you seek creative inspiration?

I’m inspired by many things outside of work. I’m always making things. Sewing, crafting, baking, etc. However, the biggest inspiration in my life has been dance. I’ve danced since I was two years old, when my mother said I couldn’t stop moving as soon as there was music on. By the time I was 16 I was dancing 10-15 hours per week and in a semi-professional company, and if you asked what I wanted to do with my life, my answer: I want to be a ballerina.

People many times don’t connect something artistic like dance to something so technical like engineering, but I think dancing has inspired confidence, innovation, and the willingness to try something new. It’s something that shaped me, and although now I only do it for fun, it’s still something that I love.

Who are some people outside of your field who inspire you the most? Why?

My husband is one of the most supportive people in my life. He is the most hands-on person and the smartest as far as being able to take a look at something and break it down into every logical step. He’s a carpenter. He has shown me so many different ways to think about something. I learned a lot of my out-of-the-box thinking from his perspective. Our conversations are always really technical. I can come home and say: ‘Did you see in the press that they’re doing this great new additive thing? This is what they’re doing next.’ He’s able to talk about it and we can talk about the advantages and talk about the cons of it. It really kind of continues my passion for it even outside of work.

What is one thing about your job that you think would surprise people?

I think what’s really interesting about my job is that I’m able to merge what many people don’t link together: the logical part and creativity. This concept of additive manufacturing is this big, scary concept out there. Some people can take it and they look at it like it’s the best thing since sliced bread and they’re going to use it everywhere and let’s forge ahead. Then there’s the other side who thinks it’s too risky; it’s just a fad that’s never going to gain any ground. My job is in this sweet spot where I’m able to take this big, scary concept and break it out into many bite-sized chunks. For design, for example, I can encourage my team to look at a design and see what kind of creativity we can bring to the table. But also, what is the structure of it? How can I make sure that my product’s integrity is still there? When I break out this concept into all these small pieces, that’s where I’m able to push my team to expand and exploit the possibilities, but make sure that our product integrity of aerospace is still there. It’s unique that my team can look at things from both a creative and logical standpoint.

What is the first thing that you do when you wake up in the morning?

I take out my puppy. I’m an early bird, so I need to hit the ground running as far as getting my day started. I’m usually running to the office, skipping breakfast and just trying to get to work. I find that if I get to work early, then I have a productive day. If it’s 8 o’clock and I’m not at work yet, I feel like I’m never going to get anything done and the day’s going to drag on. I know some people think that’s crazy, but that’s when I’m functional.

What about your morning information diet? A lot of people check their email before they get out of bed.

With Pratt, I don’t have access to email on my smartphone because we have to restrict those types of things at aerospace companies. I would say, as soon as I get to work, yes, my daily activities are to take a look at emails. Then I have all of my one-on-ones with my team members. I have one one-on-one every week with my reports. They’ll come to me and I’ll ask them how they’re doing, what they’re working on. Where can I help them?

How do you keep track of everything that you have to do during the day?

I am a major list maker. I love to look at my list and I love to cross things off. If I did something that was not on my list, I will write it down just so I can cross it off. It’s just one of those things that makes me tick, if I can make advances and continue to make milestones. That’s kind of how I approach my development project for additive. I like to break everything down. If you can break it all down into things that are achievable on a day-to-day or a week-to-week basis, then small steps go a long way. That’s really helped me in terms of achieving what I’m trying to accomplish.

What kind of system are you using? Are you a paper person or is there a task management app that you swear by?

I like to write, so I use paper lists. I usually change them over on a week-to-week basis. By the end of Friday, the piece of paper that I’ve been carrying around with me all day looks like something a child wrote probably, because it’s covered in pictures and telephone numbers. And then on Monday morning I’ll start fresh with a new piece of paper and transfer anything I didn’t accomplish the week before. There’s something about being able to write it down that is kind of soothing to me.

Do you have a favorite Twitter or Instagram account? If so, why do you love it?

I don’t have Twitter, but I do like Facebook and I follow a specific science blog on Facebook, which I can’t say out loud. I blank Love Science is what it’s called, if you know which one I’m talking about. It’s very silly, yet very interesting. It puts all kinds of things out there. I see additive manufacturing on there. I see lots of different things that make me laugh and things that make me think.


About the author

John Paul Titlow is a writer at Fast Company focused on music and technology, among other things. Find me here: Twitter: @johnpaul Instagram: @feralcatcolonist