Nicolas “Nico” Navarro, who is from Costa Rica, says he was attracted to Virginia Tech’s high-quality programs and its learning environment. “My research in graduate school focused on exploring the concept of Internet-of-Things (IoT) implementation in pallets.” He graduated in August 2020 with two master’s degrees: industrial and systems engineering with a focus in management, and sustainable biomaterials with a focus in packaging.

While he earned his degrees, Nico collaborated closely with engineers and executives in the packaging and manufacturing industry to develop case studies and identify business needs relating to supply chains, distribution processes, and packaging design. He was able to translate business needs into technical system requirements that a system must fulfill using IoT technology to satisfy the identified needs. “I also applied a model-based system engineering approach to develop an operational concept of an IoT system for the distribution packaging supply chain to continuously capture critical transportation and cargo information that allows improved packaging design and enhances supply chain operations efficiency.”

In looking back at his time here, Nico said, “One of the most important skills that you develop at the CPULD is working in a team. The ability to communicate with others highly impacts success in your career. Indeed, this is one of Warren Buffet’s main advice to young professionals. In the end, you are going to work with people, and it is people who get things done, so you need to know to handle the soft side of business.”

Nico worked as a graduate lab manager during his time at CPULD. In that role he learned to prioritize and assign activities among the interns in order to achieve the laboratory’s daily schedule objectives. This generally included supervising and conducting standardized and customized product testing that allowed for the optimization of packaging design and development — achieved by making sure that the integrity of products was preserved along the supply chain, while procuring cost and material waste reductions, as well as increased safety during handling and storage.

Nico also conducted inspections of reusable packaging solutions and products in order to determine modes of failure and assess their survivability and performance. He learned how to put together elaborate reports to provide clients with technical information relating to their packaging performance and failure modes, which, in turn, assisted clients in the decision-making process when choosing a packaging solution. Nico was instrumental in implementing and providing continuity to the lean management programs that CPULD was focused on by ensuring workstation organization, reducing operators’ movements, and increasing productivity and safety.

It was not just leadership skills and teamwork that Nico learned; he also had quite a few classes that he recommends for any grad student. Particularly for those interested in statistics and decision modeling, Nico said, “At the CPULD I got to learn how supply chain operations are heavily impacted by packaging systems and how this field presents an opportunity for efficiency and cost improvements. I took a class in the College of Engineering called Decision Analysis for Engineering, which I recommend to any graduate student interested in decision modeling, statistics, and probability. The contents of the class are applicable to a wide variety of fields, from science and engineering, to marketing and finance.”

Before he graduated, Nico had secured a position as a field application engineer with JFR Holdings, which works with clients to design, build, and/or repair wooden boxes, crates, and pallets for shipping any client’s products anywhere in the world. Nico says his duties now include supporting the company from a technical standpoint by developing product specifications using CAD software, and assisting existing and potential customers with design and cost estimation. And he is “currently working on a project to implement an ERP [enterprise resource planning] system at one of their manufacturing facilities and another project on customer engagement.”

On a personal note, Nico shared that his entire family still lives in Costa Rica. “Unfortunately, COVID-19 has prevented me from visiting them this past year, but I am hopeful that as things start to get back to normal, I will be able to visit them soon. Outside of work, I enjoy hiking, reading, listening to music, and working out in the gym, and I am currently taking virtual classes on Python programming.” Nico also added that his ideal location for living and fun would be at the beach.

Image 2. Nico enjoying lunch, 2020

Image 2. Nico enjoying lunch, 2020
Image 2. Nicolas Navarro, 2020