From Urbana to Cupertino:
Cudzich’s powering up Apple thanks to battery internship
URBANA, Ill. — One email changed Daniel Cudzich’s academic trajectory. Last fall, the now senior materials engineering student at The Grainger College of Engineering opened his inbox and to his surprise found an email from professor Paul Braun about a battery manufacturing design internship with Apple.
For the last eight months, Cudzich’s focused on battery finite element analysis simulating different manufacturing processes that happen with batteries to improve their stress distributions. And every day since has been a “fever dream.”
“A very big part of Apple’s corporate culture is a sense of wonder and delight the moment you start interacting with a product and its intuitiveness,” Cudzich said. “They definitely care a lot about efficiency and sleekness, and that does play out in the broader design of the entire device.”
Cudzich’s biggest task? Maximizing volumetric energy density, or how much energy you can pack in as small of a space as possible.
He works a lot with the machines
that build the batteries.
“There’s a lot of collaboration and interaction that I do with vendors overseas in getting the machines for our batteries built and designed well,” Cudzich said.
When there’s a new Apple product being ramped up, like an iPhone or a new Apple watch, Cudzich helps ensure that the ramping up of the production of that product goes smoothly, and that is no easy task.
“You have to somehow go from producing a handful of these on some demo machines to millions, and you need to keep that sustained,” Cudzich said. “It’s especially important in the battery because it’s what powers the whole device and it’s one of the touchiest parts of the phone.”
In recent years, smartphones powered by lithium-ion batteries made news headlines as they caused a thermal event when their batteries became overheated while charging. Cudzich works in the division dedicated to ensuring battery manufacturing is going smoothly.
This was nothing new for Cudzich, who previously interned at Panasonic focusing on manufacturing batteries for electric vehicles.
Here, however, safety and durability were of utmost priority, especially because of the high risk that comes with car crashes. That and people generally expect their car should last a lot longer than a smartphone.
“Whereas with consumer devices, a high priority is making sure that the battery lasts throughout the day, and it doesn’t fully lose that charge while you’re out and about in say the wilderness where you might be depending on a GPS location.”
Safety is very important for consumer device batteries, and the simulations Cudzich ran helped experiments to improve cell safety and longevity, saving Apple and the battery teams time and money.
More than anything, Cudzich enjoyed getting to meet the brilliant folks behind the Apple Park machine.
“It’s so much more than just the company,” Cudzich said. “There’s the brilliant people that you meet on the job, all the experience that you can leverage and trying to interact with so many people who have decades of experience in industry. It’s an incredible learning opportunity.”
Cudzich hopes he’s one of a long list of Illinois materials engineers who get to intern at Apple. His biggest advice for those hoping to make the trek to Cupertino, Calif.?
“Dive into the research side of things,” Cudzich said. “Research is definitely the key to starting off when it comes to landing internships, and it also gives you an introduction to what you might be looking at for grad school.”
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This story was published September 27, 2023.