PRODUCT DESIGNER NATE SCHUIT RECALLS EARLY DAYS OF UNIRAC

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Editor’s note: Nate Schuit, Senior Product Designer, Product Development, is one of Unirac’s longest-tenured employees. He has seen most of Unirac’s now 21-year history and was integral to one of its first and most enduring products, Solarmount rail. We asked Chris Woodward, Director of Inside Sales, another of our long-time staffers, to interview him for our monthly spotlight. This is an edited transcript of their conversation. 

Chris:
Do you have an alter ego name? I can’t say that I’ve ever heard any more than the one or two I always said. “Nate Dogg” was the one I always went towards, and it was “Mohawk” for a while.
Nate:
It is again now. [Nate was rocking one of his trademark haircuts at the time of the interview.] I answer to just about anything if you yell loud enough.
Chris:
Where are you from originally?
Nate:
Born in California but moved here [to New Mexico, where Unirac’s headquarters are] when I was 1. So here.
Chris:
And how long have you been at Unirac now?
Nate:
I think it’s 20 years now. I spent the first year on contract, and then 19 on the payroll.
Chris:
What would you say is a highlight of why you have worked at Unirac for so long?
Nate:
It’s been challenging work. The people have always been really good. I guess the highlight to me, it’s just been the engineers that I’ve worked under and with. I’ve never had really a bad engineer to work side by side with. They’ve taught me everything I know outside of, you know, what I went to school for. I really owe my whole career to my engineers that I’ve worked for here and I appreciate and really liked them all.

THE EARLY DAYS

Chris:
How would you explain to somebody how Unirac has changed over the years?
Nate:
Well, it’s huge now. [Laughter.] Yeah, no, same as you I miss having beers in the fridge.
Chris:
That was a different time. I’ve always kind of told people it’s been like four different companies [as Unirac has gone through different ownership]. At first it was like making stuff out of nothing. And then it was trying to scale like crazy. And that got us chasing giant utility stuff. And then it was slow and careful. And now it’s like, let’s let the reins out and grow.
Nate:
They’ve all been interesting.
Chris:
What’s your favorite tool of your trade?
Nate:
I guess our 3D printer. You know, we use that thing every day. I’m printing parts on it right now. We got that back when 3D printers were first coming into the market. We paid an exorbitant amount of money for it. Compared to the printers you can get nowadays, it’s not the latest and greatest, but it still runs flawlessly. And we run that thing seven days a week, some weeks.
It’s awesome for visually communicating my designs to the rest of the team. That’s where I enjoy using it because, you know, that’s my job–conceptualizing. That’s my favorite part of my job, conceptualizing things, and it’s hard to get ideas across that are in my head to the sales team, to the product managers. You know, it’s, “here’s a part, here’s how it works,” and then they get it and it’s like, “Yeah, well that’s it. There you go.”

TWO DECADES OF PRODUCTS

Chris:
Can we go through some products and you can tell us what pops into your head first and talk a little bit about them? What about Solarmount?
Nate:
You know, Solarmount kind of has a special place in my heart. It was our first extrusion that we built as a company that we designed you know, [John] Liebendorfer [Unirac’s founder], myself. It’s still our flagship. I’m surprised it’s lasted this long. It’s amazing.
Chris:
How about SFM? [Unirac’s rail-less pitched roof universal system.]
Nate:
SFM was pretty groundbreaking and that was–that took me a long time. It took Jason [Mayfield, a former member of the engineering team] and Todd [Ganshaw, Director of Product Development] a lot of persuading to get me to believe it was actually a viable product. I didn’t believe we could do it.
Chris:
I won’t lie. I was there with you.
Nate:
You know, I can be pretty hard-headed in the development phase. And I know Jason and Todd really pushed my learning abilities and my engineering comprehension to get me to believe that we could do it. And it’s been awesome. So that was a fun one.
And then, I guess maybe Flashloc is the last one. You know, that’s pretty sweet. It’s nice to venture into some real castings and then combined with the pookie [sealant] technology, you know, it’s pretty exciting. I’ve designed a lot of castings over the years for various applications and we’ve never taken one out there before and so even though this particular one isn’t mine, it opens a lot of doors for me I think on a design front.

BEYOND THE JOB

Chris:
What do you like to do outside of work?
Nate:
Not work.
Chris:
Are you still Jeeping?
Nate:
I don’t Jeep very much anymore. It got too expensive and I got bored of it. I swapped over to competitive motorcycle trials. It’s a crazy little motorcycle that doesn’t have a seat.
Chris:
Where you jump from rock to rock?
Nate:
Yeah, I’m trying to get there. I’ve been doing that for about three years now. It meets my Jeepin’ desire a lot. It still gets me out in the woods. I still get to play on the rocks. It’s really a geometrically challenging sport. I have to look and see where my lines are and know that I’m not good enough to go over that. But I have to go around this somehow and figure out how the mechanics of the motorcycle work and make it do what you want. It’s been it’s been a real fun sport for me the last couple years.
Chris:
Tell us a little bit about your family.
Nate:
Well, I’ve got two kids, 18 and 16. One graduated last year, one’s in his senior year this year. I’ve been married for 20 years to my beautiful wife, and we have four dogs. One of them rides a motorcycle with me, my street bike. That’s pretty fun.
Chris:
Like in a backpack? How does that work?
Nate:
She’s got a big old box that goes on the back of the bike. She’s just a little dog. She’s got a box about the size of two milk crates that we strap on the back of a bike and she puts her goggles on and we go cruising.
Chris:
That’s awesome.
Nate:
So yeah, apart from that, I spend a lot of time with my dad, you know? That’s what I do outside of work is I hang out with my dad. We camp, we ride bikes, we do everything together. We’re riding to Yellowstone for eight days here soon.
Chris:
Last question: If you could go back in time in to 18 or 20 years old, what would you give yourself as advice?
Nate:
So many things? [Laughter.] Just pertaining to the current events, I’d probably say, “Go live in the woods for 2020.”