Alan F. Kessler

Vice President
Amana Appliances
MSME '70

[Alan F. Kessler]

For his outstanding engineering and managerial accomplishments in producing high-volume consumer capital goods and specialized commercial systems, and for his contributions to industry trade, technical, and standards activities, the Schools of Engineering are proud to present the Distinguished Engineering Alumnus Award to Alan F. Kessler.

On finding Purdue

In the 1950s, I visited the Kansas State campus with my grandfather, an electrical engineering professor. I remember their dean of engineering, a man named Durland, suggesting that I should be an engineer because they were the ones who would put a man on the moon. Sputnik was not yet a reality, and little did any of us realize that it would happen so soon. With my farm background, I started in agricultural engineering as an undergraduate there, but soon began leaning toward mechanical engineering.

When considering graduate schools, I had a plethora of opportunities available. My grandfather advised me: “If you want to be a mechanical engineer, go to Purdue. If you want to be a professor, go to Purdue. Then maybe go somewhere else.” Purdue defined me as an engineer. It gave me analytical tools to design things and make things happen. The faculty and students I met and worked with became lifelong friends and professional acquaintances.

On his work experiences as a student

My summer jobs gave me a better insight into what engineers do and helped focus my classes. I worked two summers as a lab test technician and field test technician/engineer with Hesston Corporation, a manufacturer specializing in farm machinery. One summer I traveled to 16 states, Canada, and Mexico, picking cotton in Texas, digging potatoes in New York, and harvesting hay in Wisconsin.

On realizing dreams

If someone had told me in 1970, while philosophizing at Harry's Chocolate Shop, that in 21 years I would be designing gas ranges with die-cast burners in glass ceramic cooktops, coordinating 14 different contractors around an 800,000-square-foot factory, demolishing parts, and doing environmental remediation, I would have said, “No way.” If they would have said that next I would testify before Congress about refrigerator standards and the economic analysis process the Department of Energy uses in setting those standards, and still later travel to Europe and China to qualify appliance companies to buy, I would have viewed them as outrageous. But that all happened, and more.

My education, particularly here at Purdue, proved that whatever the technical engineering challenge is, we can put together a plan and solve it. It takes a team with all kinds of people to get the job done. I expect to learn something new every day, sometimes several things.

On career highlights

A significant challenge was making the transition from an engineer to a manager of engineers. I remember a sense of accomplishment after teaching the first group of design engineers how to optimize their designs with a manual that I had written on how to use computer programs, which I had also written.

I received two patents in 1987 on an air conditioner that was introduced into production in 1986. In 1998, the same basic patented design was still in production, and a trade magazine recognized it as an “exceptional consumer value.” This was confirmation that the time and effort spent on the engineering design and manufacturing details was justified.

On influences

My parents, knowingly or unknowingly, instilled a work ethic in me as well as a zest for knowledge and learning. My father, who was on the faculty at Kansas State, used to take me with him to many other places for conferences. I remember asking him why he went to all these different places. He said, “Alan, you can't learn anything by staying at home and talking to yourself.”

1999– :
Vice President, Technology and Government Relations, Amana Appliances and Goodman Manufacturing Company
Vice President, Engineering and Quality, Amana Appliances
Vice President, Engineering, Chief Technology Officer, Raytheon Appliances, Amana
Vice President, Engineering, Amana Refrigeration, Raytheon
Vice President, Engineering and Topton Operations, Caloric Corporation, Raytheon
Chief Engineer, Heating and Air Conditioning, Amana Refrigeration, Raytheon
Manager, Unitary Design Engineering, The Trane Company
Manager, Product Development Engineering
Manager, Production Support Engineering
Development Engineering Manager
Development Engineering Supervisor
Senior Development Engineer
Project Development Engineer, The Trane Company
BSAgE '69, Kansas State University; MSME '70, Purdue University