Kettering University alumnus learns how to think outside the box in his engineering career

Engineering is not only a career path, but a way of thinking and a problem solving mindset - something Sam Hoff ‘90 learned during his time at Kettering University and throughout his career.

Hoff, who is CEO of Patti Engineering based out of Auburn Hills, Michigan, took the skills and lessons he learned from Kettering and started his own business, allowing him to think outside the box.

“The great thing about having your own business is you feel like you have control of your own destiny. You always have to be looking at how you could improve,” said Hoff, who started the business with his wife Patti, who is the CFO. “My dad has his own small business that recently celebrated 50 years. Coming from a family of entrepreneurs I always had starting a business in the back of my mind. But I didn’t think I would do it a year out of college.”

Hoff studied Electrical Engineering at Kettering - then General Motors Institute. Growing up in Baltimore, Hoff took a trip to the midwest in high school and had an opportunity to tour Kettering University. He was impressed with the labs and facilities on campus.

Hoff took strong interest in the uniqueness of the school and its co-op opportunities.

“One of the things about Kettering and one of the things about engineering in general is that you learn to have an analytical mind when you look at things. Engineers think differently than other people, especially Kettering engineers. You try and take emotions out of any problem and figure out the best way to solve it,” Hoff said. “I think one of the biggest attributes of owning a business is grit. Being able to survive the good times and the bad times. Being able to tough it out when time gets lean. I learned some of that at Kettering.”

At Patti Engineering, Hoff has been able to go outside the box with automation and expanding his company’s skills and projects.

For example, his engineering company has been able to improve efficiency and reduce expenses for a large apparel company. For more than a decade they have been working with Men’s Warehouse to create a more efficient automation system.

Hoff said they were able to create a better way to sort the garments on hangers quickly. Competitors used several computers and over 250 RFID readers, but Patti Engineering was able to do it more efficiently with only two computers by utilizing encoder feedback.

“We took a very innovative approach to having a lot less hardware and make it a lot more reliable. It was originally seven computers paired with a lot hardware. We were able to improve the accuracy rate. There used to be 350 missorts a day. We took that down to 70 missorts a day,” Hoff said. “Engineering, especially more and more today gets done so many different places. Automation is needed everywhere.”

Automation includes ordering drinks at a kiosk and drinks automatically be poured, ordering fast food from a kiosk, healthcare applications such as robotic surgeries and many other opportunities.

“There’s limitless possibilities of how automation can make our lives better,” Hoff said.

At Patti Engineering, Hoff and his wife continue to support and invest in Kettering students as they sponsor co-op opportunities. He hopes to pass on some of the lessons he has learned to future engineers.

“You can see the students grow from their freshman to senior years. The level of a Kettering graduate is better than any other school in the industry,” Hoff said. “Being a co-op sponsor is a great way to hire great engineers after graduation.”

The Hoffs also created the Clayton R. Smith Memorial Scholarship in 2013 in memory of a Kettering engineering student who co-oped with Patti Engineering and passed away. The scholarship is awarded annually to an Electrical Engineering student with a GPA of 3.0 or higher. So far four Electrical Engineering students have benefited from the scholarship.

For Hoff, automation and owning his own business allows him to make a difference.

“I love automation and I love the fact that we make systems better and we can help drive manufacturing in America,” he said.

Kettering taught him, and other students, to learn new things and learn them quickly, Hoff said.

Hoff’s advice to Kettering students follows that lesson.

“Whatever you do with your degree make sure you have a passion for doing it. Make sure it’s something that drives you,” he said. “Always realize when you’re done with your education, you’re not done learning. It’s a lifetime of learning. Always be trying to improve yourself.”