Where it pays to play with toys

November 1, 2014 | By More

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The engineer has played an integral role in the construction of the world. Often referenced as the vanguards of science, engineers have achieved feats ranging from the invention of the wheel to Thomas Alva Edison’s creation of the incandescent light bulb. However, the average engineer is often pictured as slaving over a laboratory’s neutron well, when in fact, many engineers spend their time grouped together in small offices, researching for their next series of projects.

One such assembly exists in downtown Russellville, on the second floor of a former bank building. To reach the out-of-the-way location, one must climb a tall and steep staircase, and go through a set of brass-rimmed double doors to the left. Inside, one will find the operations office of Innovative Development Incorporated, a local engineering development firm owned by Sergio and Cynthia Picado.

According to the Picado’s, Innovative Development Inc. is a company that accepts contractual engineering projects from clients — generally in concept form —  and perform the necessary research and production tasks to complete the projects, which are then given back to the client.

“We are essentially a product development company,” Sergio Picado, co-owner, said. “We are there for the people who have an idea or a concept, but don’t have the technical knowledge to create it. They hire us and we can essentially create everything. We do the coding, we do the software and we do the hardware, too. We do the whole shooting match, basically.”

Though not exactly Tony Stark’s Malibu, Calif. workshop, Picado’s engineering laboratory is no less scientific. Arranged in a clockwise fashion with a desk at each of the four walls and metallic, computer-based project parts on smaller desks in between, the office space is an engineer’s heaven.

“Engineers, if you want to think about it in this way, are like big kids,” Picado said. “Engineers love to play. They have to have toys. Our office here is pretty much our playroom. We are definitely working, but we get to use our minds and learn things, and build things with our hands. That’s fun.”

Picado said he and his wife acquired the company from a retiring engineer during a several-year business detour in Connecticut. Originally natives of the Little Rock area, the Picado’s brought Innovative Development Inc. to Russellville, where they went to work constructing a solid, localized foundation.

“I had already worked with Innovative Development for more than 14 years,” Sergio Picado said. “The gentleman I worked with was a mechanical engineer. He always did the designs and I would do the electronics.

“Anyway, to make a long story short, he wanted to retire. So when my wife and I got the company, we wanted to bring it home. We wanted to bring it somewhere where we could help build an infrastructure and a community, and we picked Russellville.”

With a goal to grow into the local community as their primary focus, the Picado’s are continually working to anchor themselves into the Russellville area. However, the anchor has not quite come to a stop. While the Picado’s have a goal of promoting engineer-based business locally, most of their customers remain out-of-state.

“When we first took over the business, we picked up all of the company’s clients. That being said, many of our clients are not in Arkansas,” Picado said. “In fact, I’d say that more than 80 percent of our clients are from out of state, mostly in the Northeastern part of the United States.

“A lot of these projects are major industrial projects, and that’s good. It pays the bills. But we have a special interest in our community, and we put a lot of our attention on human interest projects. In my mind, it’s important to use engineering skills for good, even though many of those human interest projects aren’t very profitable.”

Even with the majority of their work coming in from out-of-state, the Picado’s said they are optimistic that their business will continue to grow into the community. To ensure a continued local connection, Picado said he and his wife hired three local engineering students as part-time workers. Together, the Picado’s and their staff work to guarantee a quality connection.

“I manage most of the engineering projects,” Picado said. “But my wife, she runs just about everything else, I guess.”

Joining Picado in the engineering office is Ivan Pena (mechanical engineer). Akbar Rajani and Luke Reves, both electrical engineers, back up Picado and assist in the never-ending challenge of keeping up with their projects, all the while managing a constant flow of circuitry work and research.

Picado said Rajani, who is currently studying electrical engineering at Arkansas Tech University, is set to graduate with his bachelor’s degree in December. Furthermore, Picado said he hopes to reach out to Arkansas Tech and the surrounding community in the not-too-distant future.

“When I was growing up, I didn’t have those people around me to help me get my career off the ground,” Picado said. “It’s hard to find that work experience. So, we want to work with Arkansas Tech and the local high schools and middle schools, and create an internship program for the kids.

“We want to start a program and bring in a half a dozen kids or so each year and give them real-world engineering experience, and educate them. We’d love to do that because it will be a part of our contribution.”

Aside from all plans for internship programs, Picado said that his staff’s relationship goes much deeper than just a business-to-community connection, emphasizing the reality that engineers are not one-dimensional creatures.

“Whenever you walk into our office, you can look around the room and see us all working together, communicating,” Picado said. “There is a lot of teamwork in the engineering world. You have to know how to communicate with each other. You have to be a people person, too. If you cannot do either one of those things, you are pretty much useless as an engineer.

“A good engineer should communicate with everybody — with vendors, designers, customers, each other, even with the guys that sweep the floor.”

Having spent the majority of his life surrounded by engineering projects, Picado said much of the world fails to understand the realities of engineering.

“A lot of people tend to think that when we are at work, that we put on a funny suit and a pair of goggles and then spend the rest of the day hitting buttons on a computer,” Picado said. “While that may be true at times, that isn’t the reality.

“Each project is very, very different. We get project requests from all industries and most of them are from companies that aren’t related at all. To make things even more interesting, they usually already have very specific design ideas that they want us to follow.”

Picado said most people underestimate the amount of research required before and throughout a project. According to Picado, after receiving a project request, he and his crew immediately begin studying. Depending on the project’s depth, Picado and crew may even reach out to experts for assistance in explanations.

“A lot of times, if it’s an in-depth project, we may meet with professionals and such,” Picado said. “We often get with the companies, and find out as much as we can about the project and the background, and in the process, you always learn things you didn’t know before.”

Nevertheless, regardless of the high-level workloads that are relentlessly fed to Picado and the Innovative Development Inc. crew, Picado said there is a secret to ensuring that only the uppermost quality is returned to the client. According to Picado, the secret lies in what he believes to be a mistake made by early scientific researchers.

“Scientists and historians have catalogued our species as Homo Sapien, which translates from Latin as “Thinking Man,” Picado said. “But I don’t like that. I don’t think we should be called that at all. I think we should be called Homo Ludin, which means “Playing Man.” That makes so much more sense.

“Human beings love to play. When we play, we have fun. When we have fun, we learn and we become experts on that subject. So when it comes down to it, I think it’s a really good feeling to know that something I do, with my own hands, is playing a part in the lives of other people. That’s why we at Innovative Development do what we do.”

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