Growing Up as An Engineer
Michael Alba posted on February 25, 2020 |
At 21, Levi Zima designs life-saving technology and proves value of hands-on engineering experience.
Siemens has sponsored this post.

Never give in, never give in, never, never, never…”  —Winston Churchill

Levi Zima was born with pneumonia in both lungs. At one day old, his blood oxygen was at 62 percent. Neonatal pneumonia kills about 2 million infants worldwide every year, but in 1998, Levi wasn’t one of them. He credits modern technology with saving his life.

Today, the 21-year-old Zima is helping develop life-saving technology of his own. He’s currently studying engineering at the University of Central Florida, but Zima’s education began far earlier. At age 5, Zima was soldering circuit boards. At age 7, he began CAD modeling with Solid Edge. At age 12, he was learning plastic injection molding, and by age 16, he was running a manufacturing production line. Zima grew up as an engineer.

If anyone can prove the value of a hands-on engineering education, it’s Levi Zima.

Growing Up as An Engineer

Levi Zima as a neonatal pneumonia patient (left) and a 21-year-old engineering student (right). (Images courtesy of Levi Zima.)
Levi Zima as a neonatal pneumonia patient (left) and a 21-year-old engineering student (right). (Images courtesy of Levi Zima.)

Engineering runs in the Zima family. Zima’s father is an RF/Microwave engineer who runs several engineering companies in Florida. Despite this, Zima never aspired to be an engineer himself. For years, he insisted that he wouldn’t follow in his father’s footsteps, certain he would pursue physics or chemistry instead.

Zima, currently studying RF/Microwave engineering, says his father often reminds him of that youthful promise.

Zima’s earliest exposure to engineering was helping his father with odd jobs at his various companies. When he was 7 years old, his father purchased Solid Edge version 18 to design plastic injection molds. Intrigued by the software, Zima completed the tutorial and took his first steps into CAD modeling.

“I thought it was cool and interesting how you draw something like that on a computer, so I tried it,” Zima said.

When he was 12, Zima was recruited to help assemble and solder circuit boards, and inject plastics to house the boards, for a product manufactured at one of his father’s companies. “That's where I really learned how to solder, where I learned troubleshooting and what makes a good circuit versus a bad circuit, and how to optimize different designs or how to optimize radio performance,” he reflected.

That product was called Poolguard, and like many of Zima’s projects, it exists to save lives.

Saving Lives with Poolguard

Poolguard is a cone-shaped safety device that floats in a swimming pool and senses if anything larger than a bird falls in the water. If so, it wirelessly activates an alarm inside the user’s house. For users with young children, Poolguard can be a literal life saver.

The Poolguard cone (left) and wireless module (right). (Images courtesy of Poolguard/Levi Zima.)
The Poolguard cone (left) and wireless module (right). (Images courtesy of Poolguard/Levi Zima.)

"We've heard many stories from parents saying, ‘my child is alive today because of this product.’ There's nothing more rewarding than knowing you've made that kind of difference in someone's life," Zima said.

At 16 years old, Zima was given a position in the Poolguard manufacturing line, an operation which he oversees to this day.  He refers to that experience as one of his first “aha moments,” a culmination of all the tinkering, soldering and manufacturing he’d been exposed to when he was younger.

“That's where I gained a lot of my practical assembly knowledge, about running a manufacturing line, running plastic injecting machines and different things like that,” Zima recalled.

Giving Back at KidVenture

A passionate advocate for giving back to the community, Zima began volunteering at a program called KidVenture when he was 14 years old. Part of the annual EAA AirVenture aviation show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, KidVenture began in 1999 to give kids (and their parents) early aviation inspiration. Zima took that mission to heart. When he was 19, he approached KidVenture founder and Chairman Daniel Majka with a novel idea.

Approximately 20,000 kids and parents go through KidVenture every year. (Image courtesy of Daniel Majka.)
Approximately 20,000 kids and parents go through KidVenture every year. (Image courtesy of Daniel Majka.)

“[Zima] and his dad came up to me and said it'd be kind of fun to do a showcase of how to build a radio,” Majka recalled.

Majka and Zima first met when Zima was a 6-year-old attendee of AirVenture. Years later, Majka got to know him better when Zima was a young teenager participating in KidVenture. He immediately took a liking to the young man. “Even back then, he struck me as—pardon the expression—he's 16 going on 35,” Majka said. “Levi is extremely intelligent, extremely polite, well-mannered and would be what every father would want as a son. He is just top-drawer all the way.”

When Zima brought his radio idea to Majka, the KidVenture Chairman had no hesitation at giving Zima the greenlight.

“I thought it'd be a good idea to educate the kids about aircraft radio,” said Zima. “And I thought a very cool thing they could do is build a circuit board that would allow them to hear the air traffic tower communication.”

Zima spearheaded the entire radio project from the circuit board on up. To design and lay out the circuit board, Zima learned how to use PADS Pro, EDA software from Siemens. His hands-on experience optimizing circuits for his father’s companies was a valuable asset in the project, but it still took Zima two failed attempts before he got the board working.

“The third time I increased the inductor Q, and I also changed some trimmer capacitors, made it easier to build, and then I got a radio that was only supposed to work at a couple of feet to work for two miles. It was even able to pick up FM stations,” Zima explained.

The KidVenture radio circuit layout and board. (Images courtesy of Levi Zima.)
The KidVenture radio circuit layout and board. (Images courtesy of Levi Zima.)

With a working radio in hand, Zima organized the workshop for the KidVenture attendees. He determined the workshop stations, ordered all the parts, arranged for the solder and soldering guns, and even reached out to local ham radio groups to solicit volunteers (Zima’s own call sign is KN4YHS).

“It's nice because I can just say ‘Levi, do this. Solve this problem,’ and then I'm done with it. I don't have to think about it anymore,” Majka praised.

Young KidVenture participants learning about radios. (Images courtesy of Daniel Majka.)
Young KidVenture participants learning about radios. (Images courtesy of Daniel Majka.)

The radio workshop was a sky-high success, with kids as young as four years old learning how to assemble, solder and test their boards. In July 2019, KidVenture attendees built 600 radios under the instruction of Zima and his team of volunteers. That same year, in recognition of his leadership, Zima received the KidVenture Volunteer of the Year award, an exclusive prize given to only one of KidVenture’s 450 volunteers.

Levi Zima holds his KidVenture Volunteer of the Year award at EAA AirVenture 2019. The award, a hand-built metal wing flap, was autographed by around 50 of the top EAA AirVenture airshow performers. Daniel Majka is standing directly to Zima’s left. (Image courtesy of Daniel Majka.)
Levi Zima holds his KidVenture Volunteer of the Year award at EAA AirVenture 2019. The award, a hand-built metal wing flap, was autographed by around 50 of the top EAA AirVenture airshow performers. Daniel Majka is standing directly to Zima’s left. (Image courtesy of Daniel Majka.)

Little Feet, inView and Eyewhere

These days, besides studying engineering at UCF, Zima continues to spend his time working at his father’s companies. In addition to overseeing the manufacturing of Poolguard, Zima is involved in several other life-saving products. Zima recently used Solid Edge and PADS Pro to create the patent drawings for a product called Little Feet, a wireless tracker that automatically shuts off a lawnmower if a child gets too close.

“[Little Feet] connects to a lawn mower, and if a child gets within 20 feet of a running lawn mower, it'll automatically shut off,” Zima explained. “There are many lawn mower accidents in the U.S., and the number one leading cause of child amputations are lawn mowers. This product is designed to prevent that.”

Some of Levi Zima’s drawings for the Little Feet patent. (Images from Patent No. US 10,514,672 B1.)
Some of Levi Zima’s drawings for the Little Feet patent. (Images from Patent No. US 10,514,672 B1.)

Another of Zima’s projects is a product called inView, a motorcycle helmet with built-in lights on the back that wirelessly connect to a motorcycle’s taillights. Zima was responsible for designing the product in PADS Pro and assembling the initial prototypes.

The inView motorcycle helmet. (Image courtesy of Third Eye Design, Inc.)
The inView motorcycle helmet. (Image courtesy of Third Eye Design, Inc.)

Finally, Zima is working to develop a Bluetooth locator product called Eyewhere, a tracker small enough to be embedded in an eyeglass frame. Zima designed the device in PADS Pro and Solid Edge, noting that the two applications complement one another well.

“I used Solid Edge to assemble the board, which was drawn up in PADS Pro 3D,” Levi said. “I would import parts from Solid Edge, assemble them in PADS Pro 3D, and then export the product back to Solid Edge and assemble it to a pair of eyeglasses to show how small it really is.”

Picture showing the size of the Eyewhere locator. (Image courtesy of Levi Zima.)
Picture showing the size of the Eyewhere locator. (Image courtesy of Levi Zima.)

Engineering Outside the Classroom

By all accounts, Zima is an incredibly bright young engineer, but he’s humble enough to stress the importance of mentorship.

“The support of others around me is what got me here today,” he emphasized. “It's not because I'm just some genius—that's not true. I only accomplished all these things because of the resources that were made available to me and all the support I've been given by people around me, including Siemens.”

Zima’s story reveals the incredible value of hands-on engineering experience from a young age. It’s one thing to learn the theory in a classroom—which Zima is doing—but it’s just as valuable to understand engineering at an intuitive level. The best way to do that is to simply get your hands dirty with some real engineering problems.

“It goes to show how important good internships are,” Zima said. “Nothing is more valuable than real-world practical experience, in my opinion.”


To learn more about SolidEdge, visit the Siemens website.

Recommended For You