Interview with Don Ayers, Vice President of Engineering
Tell us a little about yourself. When did you join the Capstone team? Where were you and what had you been doing prior to this position?
I joined Capstone in early 2014 as part of the Program Management Office, and was instantly immersed in advancing our product’s capabilities and pushing continuous improvement. My career really prepared me for life at Capstone. As a student Purdue University, my focus area was turbine design, and we built a working simple-cycle turbine as my senior year project. Post-graduation, I leveraged this experience working turbines for tanks and aircraft.
Eventually I felt the need to expand my business knowledge and obtained an MBA through Pepperdine University and proceeded to work in companies within the defense, automotive, and satellite communication industries. These are very diverse businesses which further strengthened my understanding and have been invaluable to providing a well-rounded perspective for Capstone. Using these learned best practices, I have been able to make a significant impact on Capstone, which I believe has contributed to my progression within the company. I am very excited to be a part of the leadership team as we transition Capstone from our historical business model to one of sustainable growth, while enabling clean power generation globally.
What is your current role?
My role as the Vice President of Technology is comprised of directing the activities of our technical teams across the organization, and working on identifying green technologies to integrate into our product portfolio. Our technical team encompasses over 500 collective years of experience at Capstone so their support to me, and to the organization, as a whole is invaluable.
We support the upfront activities by creating the product technical documentation and providing training and applications guidance. But we also support all the activities associated with business operations, manufacturing and quality of our products, customer service, and continuous improvement. We do all of these activities on top of continuing to design world-class products that battle climate change and provide reliable power. Our technology roadmap also means we work very close with research partners at the Department of Energy, National Research Labs, and within academia. I enjoy this aspect since it is accelerating and pushing the boundaries of technology to support long range decarbonization goals.
What got you interested in the field of engineering?
I have always been a bit of a nerd when it comes to the sciences and math, which fed my natural sense of curiosity. My dad was an engineer so he was a mentor and role model. I was able to witness firsthand what he did and how his career progressed. I think engineers are valued because of the thinking skills they are taught, which provides them many opportunities after college to move into different career paths. Looking back over my career, I followed this belief and have seen others do it as well. Personally, I thrive on variety and solving problems, and being an engineer at Capstone Green Energy provides these avenues to explore.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
I remember my first anniversary at Capstone—I couldn’t believe how fast the time went, but also how much we accomplished that first year. No day was the same, and each one brought new challenges to the plans we created. In reflection, I enjoy working on unique and cutting edge technologies with the most amazing team I could ask for. It brings me great joy to see our ideas and hard work come to fruition. Capstone provides employees the opportunities to do things they would never have been empowered to do at other companies. You really feel like you are part of something truly big, and game changing.
What does a day at Capstone looks like?
We come in, have breakfast, check the news, eat lunch, take a nap, and go home. Just kidding! Like the variety of technologies integrated into our products, our days have a lot of variety. Of course there are standing weekly meetings that we attend. However, a large part of our week is balancing efforts that are urgent, while maintaining schedules on longer-term projects. We accomplish this through various enterprise systems that enable the reporting and tracking of various engineering requests and projects, which helps us set priorities. I would say one of the biggest improvements to our workday was when we co-located to a single facility in 2017. It was amazing to see the ways in which simply being in a common building enhanced communication not only within my department, but also across departments.
What is a favorite project you’ve worked on as an engineer?
It’s hard to pick a favorite. I have had so many fulfilling projects in my career, each with its own twist that made them unique. A recent project that has really meant a lot to me is the hydrogen work we did with Argonne National Laboratory and the University of California, Irvine. The project pushed the boundaries of the Capstone microturbine capabilities. It became clear that the foundation of Capstone technology was so robust, that when combined with our patented hydrogen injector, we were able to achieve our baseline performance goals for a hydrogen-ready product. The teamwork among both institutions has been so positive that it’s felt less like work, and more like a collaboration. I look forward to continuing our work with them and playing a collective role in eliminating global carbon emissions.
What are you looking forward to in the coming year?
This year promises to be the evolution of Capstone Green Energy from traditional marketing of microturbines to selling and renting products and services that are tailored to the needs of the customers. This opens our total addressable market in ways that we couldn’t realize before. It will be an exciting year within our technical departments as we adapt and evolve to match the business, creating products and controls to streamline commissioning and enhance customer satisfaction. In addition, with the passage of the bipartisan Infrastructure Law last year, we are anticipating huge investment in the hydrogen economy with a focus on scaling up of technologies. The work we have been accomplishing on hydrogen has set us up perfectly for a commercial product.