Photo of awardee

Robert W. Rankin

Chief Engineer,
Powertrain Systems Engineering,
Ford Motor Company (retired)
BSME ’72, MSME ’73

For his distinguished career at Ford Motor Company, his record of achievements in technical leadership, and his enthusiastic support of Purdue engineering.

Growing up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, during the “space race,” Robert W. Rankin knew what he wanted to do. His father was a mechanical engineer, his mother a math teacher. He showed a natural inclination for engineering early on.

At Purdue, “Professor Sigmar Wittig (chairman emeritus of the executive board of the German Aerospace Center) was a big influence. Dr. Wittig taught me a good work ethic. Purdue gave me a good foundation — learning how to think and solve problems.

“As an undergrad, I was always late for Thermodynamics, disturbing Professor Wittig. He would always ask me the first question. It didn’t take me long to realize I better come prepared. My grades actually started to improve. Later, he offered me a research assistantship for graduate studies.”

Rankin worked on what was to be the beginning for rotary engines in the U.S. “After three months at Ford, Henry Ford II came in one day and told us we were being transferred from rotary development to emission controls.” This led to one of Rankin’s highlights: being promoted to his first supervisory position five years after graduation.

Shortly thereafter, Rankin was appointed Ford’s first Powertrain NVH and Design Analysis Manager. He progressed through several product design and development powertrain engineering management positions, including Manager of Escort Powertrain Development, 1987-90; Manager of Advanced Engine Design and Development, 1990-92; and AOD-E, 4R70W Transmission Design Manager, 1992-94.

Rankin was a member of the Society of Automotive Engineers. Throughout his career, he chaired several technical sessions related to power train engineering at the SAE annual world congress.

In 1994, he assisted in the Ford 2000 corporate re-engineering activity and was appointed one of Ford’s first Powertrain Systems Chief Engineers (1994-2003). From 2003-05, he was Chief Engineer TVM/Costs and Quality Diesel Engineering within North America Powertrain Operations.

From 2000-05, Rankin was a member of the industrial advisory committees for both Purdue’s School of Mechanical Engineering and Ray W. Herrick Laboratories, and Key Liaison of Engineering for Ford Motor Company Fund’s philanthropic support of Purdue. He was instrumental in helping Herrick Labs secure $3.5 million from Ford. In recognition of his outstanding technical accomplishments and continuing support of the School, Rankin was awarded Purdue’s Outstanding Mechanical Engineer Award in 2007.

“I’m proud of my work as an engineer in solving powertrain combustion and related vehicle noise and vibration problems. It’s very satisfying solving problems in real time. Being one of the first powertrain systems chief engineers at Ford was also very satisfying.”

Of his career, Rankin says, “If you’re passionate, like what you do, and drive for results, you have a chance of being successful. It was a great career.” 

Career Highlights

2007 Outstanding Mechanical Engineer, Purdue University
2003-05 Chief Engineer — TVM/Costs and Quality Diesel Engineering,
North America Powertrain Operations, Ford Motor Company (retired)
1994-2003 Chief Engineer — Powertrain Systems,
North America Car Product Development, Ford Motor Company
1973 MSME, Purdue University
1972 BSME, Purdue University