Dave Dornfeld continues to inspire

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Following the recent passing of Dave Dornfeld, Sarah Krasley reminisces about how he inspired and continues to inspire her through his substantive contributions to design, sustainability and engineering

Dave Dornfeld, a gentleman and an inspiration to those that met him

For many years, I kept a copy of the Temporal and Spatial Views to Manufacturing — a matrix designed to illustrate different levels of control and flexibility in manufacturing from a temporal and spatial view — pinned up next to my desk because it made me feel anything was possible.

Neatly delineated into sensible categories with pragmatic and easy to understand interdependencies, it showed how one could attack the complexity of a manufacturing system to better use materials, energy, and water and improve the wellbeing of the people who work within it and live around it.

In the bottom left-hand corner was the product, all the way up to the top right where you were dealing with the colossal scale of a full supply chain.


I doubt I need to tell any Develop3D reader that manufacturing is an epic system. It’s riddled with proverbial hills up which, every day, we push proverbial (and sometimes real) rocks, and the fact that someone had neatly and completely captured a sane approach for doing things in an elegant four by six matrix was utterly astounding to me.

For months, every day, I looked at the matrix, discussed it with executives, product designers, sustainability practitioners, and manufacturers in an effort to try and find exceptions to it.

Finding none, in 2010 while I was living in San Francisco, I went across the bridge to Berkeley to meet its maker, Professor Dave Dornfeld, the Will C. Hall Family Chair in Engineering of University of California, Berkeley (UCB)’s Mechanical Engineering Department and the head of the Lab for Manufacturing and Sustainability (LMAS).

I remember waiting in the conference room of the lab before meeting Dave for the first time and taking note of the art on the wall. It was an ink drawing that read “I Kaizen” in Japanese characters. I remember thinking “this is my kind of place.”

That day ushered in a multi-year collaboration and friendship with Dave Dornfeld. I learned more about manufacturing from Dave than anybody and I was heartbroken to hear of his sudden passing at 66 in early April.

Dave was as a self proclaimed “manufacturing guy” through and through.

He came to Berkeley in 1977 fresh from a PhD in Wisconsin and spent his career at UCB. His main substantive research began with cutting tool wear and CMP of wafers but spread to areas such as sustainable manufacturing and product design over a broad set of industries.

His blog, Green Manufacturing, is still the place I send young whippersnappers eager to make sense of it all.

Dave was usually the smartest person in the room, but also the most humble.

“He does not want to have the limelight. He would often divert questions to others. Not because he didn’t know the answer, but because he wanted to bring in other points of view. This is the mark of true greatness.

He will always be remembered as a good soul who was willing to help others,” said Professor Kimura, Penn State University at a tribute to Dave held on campus.

Beyond the substantive contributions he made to design, sustainability, and engineering, he led a diverse mechanical engineering lab with gender parity that far exceeded industry norms. Year after year, I watched Dave mentor brilliant female PhDs who tackled tough issues like energy effi ciency in factories and social impacts in sustainability.

This was a topic he was passionate about. In the past two years, he had begun a new phase of his career as the faculty director of UCB’s new Jacobs Institute of Design Innovation.

The last conversation Dave and I had was one where he expressed how excited he was at the possibilities of the new approach to engineering education.

As the week after his passing stretched on, I received email after email entitled “sad news” from an engineering community in shock. I replied with weary responses, not sure if anything I wrote would adequately describe how sad I was or could bring comfort to those who worked closely with him.

They really don’t make them like Dave anymore. I would guess that many feel this way. I not only hope to emulate the kind of practical contributions he made to his field, but hope to create inclusive and supportive environments in which my students can learn.

Like Dave, I want to strike that balance of not making it too complicated and extinguishing their enthusiasm, but give them a real picture of the marvelously intricate system that delivers products to us.

More so, I hope to emulate his kind, generous, and helpful nature. I guess, simply put, I’ll hope to “continuously improve” to be like Dave.

I’m currently creating a line of women’s swimwear and need to name the pieces in my first collection. I’m going to name one of them The Dornfeld in memory of Dave.

He really despised the limelight and news of those plans would probably embarrass the hell out of him, but I’m doing it anyway.
Get in touch: Sarah Krasley is the founder and principal of product, service and workplace policy design, firm Unreasonable Women. She recently founded
X Swimwear and is an Adjunct Professor at New York University’s ITP Program. Learn more about her at sarahkrasley.com

Sarah Krasley on how Dave Dornfeld continues to inspire her after his passing

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