As many of us experienced as seniors in high school, Tara Meinck was unsure what career path to follow after graduation. And if she could fast-forward a decade or so into the future, she likely never would have guessed she’d have a full-fledged career as an engineer and product manager at SPIROL International, a global expert in fastening, joining, and assembly.
“I owe becoming an engineer to my grandfather,” she shares. “I always expressed an interest in math and science as a young adult but couldn’t decide what direction to take until I discussed it with him.”
Growing up, Meinck always felt close ties to her grandfather, so she took his advice to heart.
“For a while, my grandparents lived with my parents and me…and even when they moved, he was never more than a block away until I went to college,” she says. Meinck’s grandfather initially intended to become an engineer himself but plans changed when he joined the Navy.
In some ways, Meinck picked up where he left off in pursuit of engineering, attending Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Massachusetts. Although she initially studied biomedical engineering before rethinking her decision.
“I decided to change my major at the last minute, two-and-a-half years into my degree,” she laughs. “I started thinking biomedical engineering was too specialized for me and that mechanical engineering would open more opportunities.”
Meinck’s decision has served her well. Before graduating college, she interviewed with SPIROL for a role as part of its leadership rotation program. The company is a prominent supporter of students pursuing degrees in Engineering, Basic Sciences, or Manufacturing Technology, offering scholarships and internships.
“SPIROL actively recruits students from Worcester Polytechnic Institute. In fact, one of SPIROL’s former CEOs, and the second-generation owner of the company, is a WPI grad — as are several of its employees,” explains Meinck. “And my experience in its leadership program was invaluable to my career, especially starting out in the field of engineering.”
Through the leadership program, which lasted about a year, Meinck gained experience in the applications engineering department, learning how to conduct technical product and application reviews and provide recommendations.
“SPIROL works in close collaboration with many of its customers. So, we’d often receive customer inquiries, and I would review the applications specific to the joining and fastening requirements, and then make recommendations for our fasteners,” she says. “I enjoyed learning about the design process.”
Meinck never left the company. Nine years later, she is a Product Manager for SPIROL’s Metal Cut Products division.
“The leadership program gave me such a wide-lens view of how the different departments work together, from the customer and application requirements to product design and manufacturing,” she says. “One of my favorite parts has been figuring out a customer’s need and what that optimized fastener design might look like for their application while weighing the potential implications from a manufacturing, performance, and cost-benefit standpoint.”
Eventually, Meinck expressed an interest in working permanently within one of SPIROL’s product divisions. She knew she had found her niche. As fate would have it, another engineer was nearing retirement who had a specialized focus on machine fasteners for plastic assemblies. This included threaded inserts and compression limiters.
“I was fortunate enough to identify a potential position for myself during that program that would also have a need internally,” says Meinck.
She was also fortunate to have several role models who facilitated careers for female engineers in the fastener and manufacturing industries.
“I feel very grateful to have followed in the footsteps of some great female leaders at SPIROL, many of whom have been with the company for decades and helped pave the way for my professional career here,” she says. “Although I struggled to feel confident as a professional when I was a new graduate, I’ve never felt insecure as a female in a male-dominated role. And I hope and believe that things are truly changing and that STEM careers are becoming more accessible for women.” (STEM is an umbrella term for education or careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.)
In terms of SPIROL’s success, standardization has been fundamental. The company works to identify common market requirements and develop a standard product line or production process that best meets those needs. Standardization lowers material, tooling, and production costs.
“Using a standardized part reduces the risk for our customers and their supply chain,” explains Meinck. “Our goal is always to manage inventory, ensure quality, and provide efficiency for our customers at the lowest possible costs.”
SPRIOL’s production capabilities cover various modern processes, spanning proprietary roll-form technology and stamping, 4-slides, lasers, CNC machining, and Swiss multi-spindle screw machines.
Today, Meinck is responsible for gathering and prioritizing product and customer requirements. She works closely with the engineering team, doing what she loves — delivering products that not only fulfill customer requirements but also exceed them.
One example of this includes her work on SPIROL’s Mold-In Insert offering. During the plastic injection process, Molded-In Inserts are placed over the core pins before the closure of a mold cavity. They’re designed for maximum pull-out and torque performance, and are often the Insert of choice for thermosets and engineered plastics with a high percentage of filler.
“In this case, we identified a market need for an insert that was lightweight, lead-free, and had very aggressive features to ensure excellent performance,” explains Meinck.
To achieve these characteristics, high-strength, aerospace-grade of aluminum was specified. Additionally, new production technology was implemented that allows SPIROL’s Series INS63 and INS65 Inserts for overmolding to optimize performance potential in a slim profile while reducing overall assembly costs.
“New product development is certainly one of the most rewarding aspects of my job. I enjoy marrying a market need with effective manufacturability,” she says. “I definitely think I made the right call when following my grandfather’s advice to become an engineer. My job is really rewarding.”