Recent grad at VW is top young engineer in Chattanooga

Holger Fechner (left), manager, Exterior Development, Volkswagen, and Matthias Erb (right), executive vice president of Engineering and Planning at Volkswagen Group of America, congratulate Alexander Faupel at Chattanooga E-Week activities. (Contributed photo)

Less than a year after graduation, a Vanderbilt mechanical engineering alumnus and Volkswagen employee was named 2016 Gen. Robert Neyland Young Engineer of the Year on Feb. 25 by the Chattanooga Engineers Society during its national E-Week activities.

Alexander Faupel (BE’15) started his VW career in Chattanooga as an engineering associate at the automaker’s new North American Engineering and Planning Center last summer taking responsibility for exterior glass and plastic parts development.

“Congratulations to Alex. We are very proud and happy to have him on the EPC team,” said Matthias Erb, executive vice president of engineering and planning, in a statement. “Volkswagen keeps attracting young talents who help us in our ongoing effort to develop vehicles specifically for the U.S. market.”

Faupel also has spent three months with Volkswagen in Germany to support the midsize sport utility project. VW is spending $600 million in Chattanooga to start assembly of the SUV by late this year.

“I was surprised when my department manager and colleagues wanted to nominate me. Then, of course, I was again surprised and honored to receive the award,” said Alex Faupel. “I do realize that I am quite young among peers in this profession.”

The Engineering and Planning Center serves as a high-level research and development facility and houses product-related functions such as product engineering, innovation management, and product management.

“I enjoy the fact that every day I am working on projects involving vehicle parts of varying function and material. Because of this, I am challenged to continue to learn while contributing to the company as well.”

For his senior capstone engineering project, Faupel built computational models for Artiphon, a music technology startup in Nashville. Artiphon is digital instrument that can be played as a guitar, piano, drum pad, synthesizer, and many other instruments. The models of overlay shapes provided possible design parameters for press and pluck forces at different positions.

“In order to validate the models, we tested a number of them using a hardware test setup. We analyzed data from all of the validated simulations and presented these simulations with a user interface so Artiphon can view results of each individual simulation. This will help Artiphon save time and money when considering design changes since they won’t have to immediately manufacture new overlay designs to test,” Faupel said.

Faupel’s work at VW is certainly a departure from his experience with Artiphon, but there are similarities, he said. “The difference in company size results in both positive and negative attributes when trying to navigate a topic, but engineering fundamentals are still important in all projects! One difference is that I do not need to stay up all night running computer simulations in Featheringill [Hall] anymore.”

While Faupel credits his Vanderbilt engineering professors as having “a good and lasting impact on me,” one stands out. “Most influential, though, is Professor Thomas Withrow.”

“Every semester I interacted with him through courses, the Design Studio, and even on the basketball court! He guided mechanical engineering senior design project teams to create the absolute best ‘engineering’ project possible. Though at times difficult, the high requirements he set for us prepared me well for stepping into a dynamic engineering business,” Faupel said.

Chattanooga E-Week is organized through the Chattanooga Engineers Society and celebrates its 65th anniversary this year. E-Week promotes STEM activities and engineering scholarships in the Chattanooga area.

Brenda Ellis, (615) 343-6314
Twitter @VUEngineering