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Raising the Profile of Women in Engineering - An interview with Cindy Freeby

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Raising the Profile of Women in Engineering

An interview with Cindy Freeby, Regional Sales Manager at AMETEK Specialty Metal Products

Cindy Freeby has enjoyed a successful, forty-year career in the powder metallurgy sector and has dedicated much of her time working for companies who manufacture metal powders as well as advancing the industry. Recently, she was named the first ever female to receive the Fellow award, which is bestowed by APMI International, the global professional society for powder metallurgy, Cindy attributes her prolonged success in the industry to be linked to hard work and a strong interest in networking.

Cindy talks to us about her career to date, and why actually showing women the various engineering opportunities that are out there waiting for them, can make a real difference when it comes to boosting female recruitment in science, engineering and STEM-related industries.

Q. How long have you been working in the metal powder industry and, more specifically, with AMETEK Specialty Metal Products?

I started out in 1979, working for a company who manufactured non-ferrous metal powders and worked in the areas of technical services and sales/marketing. I joined APMI International that year as well. I also worked in marketing/sales management for a steel powder manufacturer from 1989 to 2007, prior to joining AMETEK Specialty Metal Products. I began my employment with AMETEK SMP in 2007and was initially involved in new business development and presently, am a Regional Sales Manager. From 2007 until the present time I have primarily sold high alloy powders and clad plate manufactured at the Eighty-Four, PA plant. Plus, the sales/marketing of our metal strip and tubing products have been part of my job since 2018.

Q. Can you tell us a bit about your role as Regional Sales Manager at AMETEK SMP?

Pre COVID-19, my role as Regional Sales Manager involved a lot of travelling to see customers. Of course, that hasn’t happened since the pandemic took hold, and I now work largely from home. I used to set up my own schedules and go out to visit not only powder customers, but metal strip and tubing accounts, as well. We re-organized a few years ago and the result was that our entire sales team would be responsible for selling multiple product lines manufactured by the AMETEK Specialty Metal businesses, such as precision tubing, strip and wire, shaped components, and clad plate. Powder, however, has always been my main area of expertise.

Generally, I would target to visit our more high-profile customers at least once a month, face to face, and other small to mid-size customers at least every six months or so. It all depended on geographical locations and how easy it was to access customers located close to each other or further afield. I also spent dedicated time investigating new business opportunities and ways we can support new customers from our various metal operations at AMETEK SMP.

Q. What is a typical day for you?

I can’t really say that any day is ‘typical’, but I tend to start by prioritizing orders to keep plants running at an optimum level. I will reference our backlog frequently to check what customer orders have been placed. If it appears that there are some “gaps” in the product releases listed, I immediately contact the customer to check on their state of business. Many have said that they appreciate this kind of proactive approach where I am able to second-guess their needs in advance. So, that’s my number one priority, keeping the orders coming in, our plants busy and our people working.

Business had been robust from 2016-2019, prior to the pandemic. Demand had been high in the automotive industry for our powder materials for the time period leading up to the COVID situation. Also, the general industrial sector had shown strength as well. Good to say that since mid-2020, these 2 markets have rebounded in their consumption of powders. I love the variety of my job and I do miss visiting customers. The email and conference call route is no substitute for human contact. When I sit down with someone face to face, this affords the ability to hear the customer’s words while also “reading” their body language. Most customers reveal more information in person than in a phone conversation or email. There’s still a lot to be said for that type of physical interaction.

Q. Tell us about the APMI International, considered the Global Professional Society of Powder Metallurgy, and the benefit of membership

APMI International was established as the global professional society for powder metallurgy and the main mission is to help advance the science and practice of powder metallurgy. The membership is comprised of individuals who work in all areas of the PM industry, including the academic sectors. Some members work for companies that manufacture the powders, while others are employed by businesses who produce and sell equipment to powder and part producers. Plus, most of our valued metal powder customers, who supply PM and MIM components, encourage their employees to join APMI International. Metal powders are being increasingly used in 3D printing and additive manufacturing presently, so there is a host of new people signing up for membership.

In the past, there had been regional sections of the APMI International in the United States and Canada that organized regular evening meetings, with speakers and networking opportunities. This approach has largely been discontinued in favor of a more diverse offering to members, including digital resources and a few regional technical sessions. However, there is still an active chapter in western Pennsylvania where there exists a large grouping of powdered metal related businesses. This chapter have not met in person since COVID-19 hit, but these meetings had been well attended in the past with interesting speakers, relevant technical topics, and a welcoming atmosphere.

Q. You have recently won the highly acclaimed 2021 APMI International Fellow Award, recognizing your significant contribution to APMI International and the high level of expertise you have gained in the technology, practice or business of the power engineering industry. What does this mean to you?

The Fellow award is a true honor for me and a real highlight of my career in the Powder Metallurgy industry. You must be nominated for the award by one of your peers. I still don’t know who suggested that I be considered – it’s all top secret! I was nominated for my contributions in three areas. First, professional, technical and scientific achievements was one criteria of significance. Secondly, my continuing professional growth and development were also important factors. And lastly, my contributions in the areas of industry outreach and mentoring were reviewed. I had to submit various pieces of information and evidence concerning my career history, and examples of local APMI International chapter past service, participation in continuing Powder Metallurgy education offered by the Metal Powder Industries Federation as well as MPIF Powdermet conference committees and other MPIF technical boards and committees.

The group of “Fellows” serve as advisors to the APMI in their areas of expertise, as and when requested, so it is a real privilege to be chosen. I was also proud to be the first woman selected to become a Fellow, so, that is something to celebrate.

Q. This isn’t the first award you have won – what do you think contributes most to your success in a challenging industry?

I’m a hard worker, which really does help when it comes to making it in any industry, with PM being no exception. To note, I did prepare the documentation to accompany my nomination for APMI International Fellow over several weekends as I wanted to be careful to gather complete information which was required. To accomplish this task, I did review many old records and that was interesting, but also quite challenging, when some information could not be found digitally.

Secondly, I believe that having the capability and passion to network, I used those talents to promote the PM industry and the companies who I represented over the years to the best of my ability. I have been fortunate to meet some amazing people in my time and have used my networking skills to connect with people whom I would never have met any other way, to learn from them and to build my industry relationships.

Q. Conversely, what are the biggest challenges you have faced in your career over the past couple of years?

COVID-19 has definitely impacted all of us. For me, I was used to being out on the road and I don’t like staying still for too long. I miss seeing my customers face-to-face, at the moment, and I know they miss people like me coming to visit with them. I’m not opposed to using the phone or email to stay in contact, but it is not the same, especially with a new client. Introductory emails can sometimes be a bit detached, so I often place a call to a new customer. I’d rather have them listen to my voice and to be able to hear what they are thinking too. It will be wonderful when we attain a post-COVID status, and we can get back to meeting up with our valued clients in person.

Q. Finally, how do you think we can encourage more women to follow your lead and consider a career in engineering or metallurgy?

I received my degree in chemistry a while back, but I think that many women, at that time, felt frightened to enter what was widely considered a ‘man’s world’. To an extent, these perceptions still remain. I think it is important for young women to be exposed to the vast opportunities in the world of science and engineering, so they can see the prominent careers which are offered in Powder Metallurgy and other technical industries.

This must begin in grade school and continue on through high school. AMETEK and other companies had participated in a special program such as “take your child to work day” prior to the pandemic and this should be embraced one again. This is a designated day in the USA, which in 2021 is April 22 and it appears this will take place virtually among participating businesses.

Things are changing, and a good example which touches the PM industry is 3D Printing/Additive Manufacturing which are becoming more prominent. These new technologies could be considered as “fun” and interesting options for newcomers into our industry. It’s great to be able to harness that “cool” factor to attract young women and to help them see engineering and science as a viable career. Some people obtain their science-based degree and then they are not sure what path they want to take, so to be able to show them all kinds of new and emerging areas within engineering is an exciting prospect. On the practical side, you can almost count on being employed if you pursue a career in the sciences and engineering fields, which is quite important.