Victor Ribeiro, is a millwright and auto electrical specialist who manages a specialty auto electric repair and rebuild facility in St. Jacobs, Ontario. Our Q&A with Victor is the third of our four-part series on Design Thinking.
To us, Victor is an automotive artist, with the special ability to reimagine, redesign and rebuild mechanical and electrical parts. Every day he employs creative design thinking to develop strategies and solutions for both new and vintage vehicles and equipment. Whether dealing with a faulty alternator, starter or generator for anything from farm equipment and motorcycles to marine vehicles and classic cars from the 30s and 40s, he applies design thinking to improve upon the original construction of these complex machines. The beauty of Victor’s work is the restoration – bringing back to life – of cases that every other mechanic gives up on.
His design process is both methodical and creative, drawing on imagination and years of (mostly) self-taught experience to diagnose, repair and restore. We forget how revolutionary the design of cars was – and how integral they still are to us, both for transportation and style. The complex art of re-designing and building that Victor employs is equivalent to sculpting second chances for these ever-evolving automotive machines.
How does design come to play in your work?
As a millwright, I’m a jack-of-all-trades, or essentially a creative problem solver. With auto-electrical or mechanical challenges specifically I apply that creative mindset to unique cases that we get in the shop. For instance, when vehicles require a new part that isn’t easy to come by (you’d likely have to order it from the manufacturer, which takes a while, if it’s even accessible) I can re-imagine its original design and rebuild or reconstruct the broken piece in a unique and well-functioning way.
In some cases, I can even improve on the original design if the situation requires it. In my head I build a vision of the part, then draft out the fix I’m going to make resulting in a unit or part that is just like new!
You must have a unique set of skills, what’s your background?
Well, I worked as millwright for over 14 years and was also trained as an industrial electrician. But much of my know-how comes from being surrounded by mechanics, like my dad and brother, and teaching myself to repair cars – both the mechanical and electrical elements.
From when I got my first car, I repaired it myself. Then my friends started asking me to repair their vehicles as well and it grew from there. Most of my technical and creative thinking skills come from trying my hand at everything – finding unique challenges and figuring them out.
Originally, I worked in preventative maintenance on very expensive machinery – so I learned how to decipher the design of a well-functioning machine. Then later I moved into repairing machinery, which just built on that understanding.
What’s your creative process for envisioning, then fixing a problem?
First, I examine the part or the machine that’s wrecked and determine how the damage occurred. I want to grasp what the weak points are, why it broke in the first place. Once I know that and understand the material, I can determine HOW it was made…if it was milled, or poured etc. That’s all I need to remake the part or machine, right down to the exact specs.
I work out the precise measurements and the outcome I want in advance before testing it out – if you cut away too much of the wrong metal for instance, it’s gone and can’t be welded back on! So, you have to know what you’re doing the first time around. I like to take a pen and paper, map out a 2D or 3D drawing considering all the angles before getting started.
This drafting process is something I learned on my own. Yes, we learned to read blueprints when I was trained as a millwright, but I’ve applied it in my own way over the years. Almost like an engineer would. I’ve always loved drawing, so that skill has come in handy.
Can you share an example of some interesting cases you’ve solved?
People come by the shop to pick my brain about on every topic – from how something can be made more reliable to changing the electrical output of a machine. I’ve helped clients make their alternator self-charging for instance and figured out how to draw power from a windmill.
Electrical issues within machinery is a common theme I address – I make the connections between the design of something and what powers it. For instance, a woman had a car that would just shut off while she was driving. She took it to several other mechanics who replaced parts etc. but the problem would always return. I did a bit of research and tinkering and realized it was a simple issue with a sensor. After fixing that her vehicle runs perfectly.
You always have to start by building a vision of all the scenarios that can lead to something breaking down – then design the right fix.
In the end, bringing a smile to people’s faces when they find out their car is good to go, is the best part of what I do.
Stop by Arts Auto Electric, http://artsautocanada.com/ to meet Victor – he’s got plenty of advice to share!