A Young Engineer Makes Herself Heard in Manufacturing
Rashmi Vadlakonda is a woman with a voice, and she’s not afraid to use it.
As a manufacturing engineer at Trane Technologies—a company focused on sustainable climate innovations—Vadlakonda is making advancements in engineering and paving the way for more women of color to join her. That’s why she was recently recognized by the Manufacturing Institute’s 2023 Women MAKE Awards as an Emerging Leader.
The award: The Women MAKE Awards, formerly known as the STEP Ahead Awards, honor top female talent in the industry while providing honorees with a platform to inspire other future industry leaders. Vadlakonda sees the honor as an opportunity to keep speaking up for people who are underrepresented.
- “I believe that for young women in manufacturing, especially for me as an immigrant young woman of color … a title helps,” said Vadlakonda. “This award gives me that title [and] the courage that I need to speak up and say, ‘Hey, I have something to share, and I want you to listen to me. There’s a reason I was recognized.’”
Starting out: Vadlakonda wasn’t immediately drawn to engineering, but when she was growing up in India, it was typical for young people to pursue engineering or medicine.
- Once she “fell into it,” she loved it, and took an especially strong interest in 3D printing while in graduate school at North Carolina State University. Her passion for 3D printing is what brought her to Trane Technologies.
Making the transition: When she first came to the company, she was responsible for operationalizing additive manufacturing throughout the company.
- She spent a few years in a corporate setting, traveling to different offices and introducing advanced manufacturing technologies—but when the pandemic hit and travel was largely suspended, she had plenty of time to think about what she wanted to do next. That’s when she decided to pivot to working in a factory setting.
- “The factory is a basic building block of the manufacturing industry,” said Vadlakonda. “Coming from a research background, I wanted to understand how a factory functions, how the people there think, how different groups interact with each other, and what it takes to actually deliver a good product.”
The factory floor: Vadlakonda is grateful she got a chance to work in both the corporate and factory environments. In a factory, she says, the pace is much faster, and you’re pushed to solve problems right in front of you. This was a challenge she found thrilling.
To women in the industry: When asked what her advice is for women in the industry, Vadlakonda first had advice for industry leaders. She believes they must create a comfortable environment for people from all walks of life.
- “Sure, you can get someone interested in manufacturing, you can help them come into the industry,” said Vadlakonda. “But we also have the responsibility of creating a welcoming environment where they feel like they can grow, so that they don’t leave, so that they’re happy here in the industry.”
The future: Vadlakonda, who is a champion of, and volunteer for, the industry’s Creators Wanted campaign to inspire the next generation of creators, believes it is vital that young people are exposed to manufacturing career options at an early age.
- “It doesn’t start with talking to women who have decided on a career path,” said Vadlakonda. “You have to start with kids. That’s why I like talking at Creators Wanted. Young people are naturally attracted to what they’re attracted to. Our job as adults is to help them see the options.”
The last word: “Manufacturing is very exciting,” said Vadlakonda. “It’s very interesting, you get to be creative and solve problems—and it’s such a satisfying feeling to solve problems.”