A lot of kids dream of becoming pro athletes, firefighters, or rock stars.
But Michael Kotzalas knew he was going to be an engineer. This dedication culminated in his being named Outstanding Young Engineer in Off- Highway Industry of 2007 by the Society of Automobile Engineers (SAE).
Kotzalas, 34, earned the award by getting two U.S. patents for cylindrical roller bearing designs. He also coauthored the fifth edition of Rolling Bearing Analysis (CRC Press, New York, 2006), an encyclopedic, twotext engineering reference widely regarded as the industry standard. Kotzalas has also published nine papers in peer-reviewed journals and four papers in conference proceedings.
He has received the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Tribology Division’s Best Paper Award and twice won the Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers’ (STLE) Hodson Award.
Currently, Kotzalas is a technical group leader for The Timken Co., Canton, Ohio., where he is responsible for the application and design engineering of offhighway and marine power-transmission for the company’s global customer base. Prior to working at Timken, he was a research assistant at the Applied Research Laboratory for The Pennsylvania State University.
Kotzalas credits family, teachers, and colleagues for his success. Mike grew up in Pittsburgh, where he was raised on football and family traditions. His father and grandfather, both engineers, immigrated to the U.S. from Greece. His father, Nick, worked on government-classified projects at the Westinghouse nuclear lab. And although he couldn’t discuss his work, he did bring home trade journals, including Machine Design, to share with his children.
“I used to read them as a kid,” says Kotzalas. “It just seemed natural; I don’t think [becoming an engineer] was ever a choice I needed to make.” His sister, Margaret, became a nuclear engineer like her father. She works for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Washington, D.C.
Kotzalas earned his bachelor’s, masters, and doctorate degrees in mechanical engineering from Penn State, where he met Ted Harris, a professor specializing in bearings. Mike had wanted to specialize in vibration and noise reduction, but bearings was one of the few research projects with available funding. So, with encouragement from Harris, Mike got a Ph.D. in bearing technology.
He joined Timken as a product development engineer in 1999; but he hadn’t seen the last of his mentor. Harris, retiring after 30 years in the industry, asked the young engineer to coauthor Rolling Bearing Analysis. With Kotzalas on board, what had been a single text grew to two volumes, Essential Concepts of Bearing Technology and Advanced Concepts of Bearing Technology.
Between his children’s T-ball games, Mike delves into issues such as developing precise models for bearing wear in wind turbines. His activities let him keep current and provide insights that help improve the performance and safe operation of virtually every kind of moving apparatus.
“If you ask me what I like to do when I’m away from work, my answer, aside from being with my family, has to be ‘more work,’” Mike says with a smile.
Nominations for the award are usually made by employers or peers. Nominees must be under 37 years old or have worked in the industry less than 10 years. The winner receives a certificate and a $500 honorarium.