Industry Spotlight: Trim Engineer Uses Fashion Skills for Automotive Career


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Trim Engineer Whitney Jones moved to Farmington Hills from Arizona at the age of four, grew up in the mitten and when she reached college, she knew she wanted to work in the design field but she wasn’t sure if the fashion or the interior design route was the right choice. As it always does for DG3, fashion won; she received her Bachelor’s Degree in Apparel and Textile Design from MSU but as she got out into the real world, she realized that most of the fashion jobs were out of state. Not wanting to move, she put her skills to good use in the automotive field.

DG3: Tell us a little about yourself, Whitney.

Whitney Jones: My family moved here from Arizona, I grew up in the Farmington Hills area and went to Marian High School in Bloomfield Hills. For my first year of college, I went to Arizona State University in Tempe and they did not have a fashion design program, so by default I wound up studying interior design. I got really home sick and decided to move back to Michigan after my freshman year. I transferred to Michigan State and learned that they had an excellent fashion program, so I switched majors and got my BA in Apparel and Textile Design.

DG3: How did you get into trim engineering? Is it similar to any of the specific fashion design applications?

WJ: I got into trim engineering for similar reasons that I ended up at Michigan State. Once I graduated, I found that most of the design work was either in New York or Los Angeles. For as many times as I flew home to visit friends and family while I lived in Tempe, I decided moving away again was not a good choice for me financially – I would be spending every dime I made on air travel! I began applying to every opportunity I felt I was even slightly qualified for. After a couple of months with no luck, I received an email from MSU stating that an automotive company in Novi was searching for Apparel and Textile graduates for an entry level Trim Engineering position. I jumped at the opportunity, and here I am, four years later.

Trim engineering has a lot of similarities to pattern making, but it comes with a lot of additional responsibilities. The basic concept of making a trim cover is very similar to making a garment: you pin up a foam pad with muslin (or other drape-able materials), draw on your design lines, add in your selvage and notch your patterns, just like you would when patterning/draping with a mannequin. The main difference is that you are working to strict safety and quality guidelines, as seating is a product that gets used daily and must look great and function perfectly for many years.

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DG3: What exactly do you do as a trim engineer?

WJ: Each Company varies a bit when it comes to the responsibilities of a trim engineer, however the basics are all the same. We receive a customer driven design, with very specific expectations in terms of seam placement, and materials being used. Foam pads are made to match what the customer expects, which I also have the responsibility to design the foam, and on the development side, I would then create patterns using the foam pad. The basic expectation is to have a wrinkle-free seat, which goes through all kinds of testing to ensure it will be comfortable, durable and safe. In order to get to that point, I have to use my patterning and sewing skills, as well as some knowledge of textiles in order to understand how to get the material to achieve the stretch I need to get the best fit.

On the engineering side, I work closely with design engineers to ensure that we are all happy with where the product is going. I attend meetings, work with the customer and respond to any questions or concerns the plants, suppliers or customers may have with the design. I am responsible for ensuring that every little bit of information that could possibly be needed to have production-ready product is available, and concise.