Business, Employment, Inclusion Training | Written By Northwest Center Staff

The Electronetics Problem-solver: If Lawrence Doesn’t Have The Right Tool For The Job, He Makes His Own


You could call him MacGyver. Like the early ’90s TV character, 19-year-old Lawrence has made innovative, time-saving tools out of household objects like empty soup cans and AA batteries ever since he was a child. But instead of thwarting secret plots against the US Government, Lawrence uses his skills to solve business problems for his employers at Electronetics, LLC.
“He’s pretty incredible,” says Scott Patterson, Lawrence’s supervisor and Electronetics plant manager. Patterson first brought Lawrence in for a working interview to get a feel for his skills and accuracy in assembling the off-grid power transformers, high frequency magnetics, and custom inductors Electronetics creates for the medical and aerospace industry. The company is part of Northwest Center’s Social Enterprise model: a business wholly-owned by Northwest Center that generates revenue for education and employment programs and employs a diverse workforce of people of all abilities.

Lawrence quickly proved the wisdom of such diversity”while he has a developmental disability, he also has a laser focus on detail and a knack for ingenious solutions. “He could do everything we showed him in five minutes,” Patterson says. “You would show him one time, and it would be perfect.”

As the interview progressed, Lawrence shared stories with the Electronetics team about how he began developing skills in electricity and magnetic conductivity in fourth grade, when he created a battery-powered Christmas light set. Limited only by finances, he went on to make his own LED lights, switches, and job tools with what he could find around the house: empty cans, broken fixtures, and batteries borrowed from the family remote control. Most interesting of all to his interviewers was the scientific fashion in which he recorded his work.

“He told me how he documented the process and the results, taking pictures and making drawings of each step he took along the way so that he could avoid any mistakes,” says Patterson. “His attention to detail and wanting to get it right every time is absolutely remarkable.”

For Lawrence, it’s much simpler than that. “I just don’t want to waste stuff. So I plan it out to make sure it will work before I make it.”

Electronetics now employs Lawrence in the small parts department, winding and terminating toroid transformers and prepping them for shipment”and continuing to amaze the Electronetics team. The second day on the job, Lawrence came in with his own invention: a small machine that would make it simpler to twist wires through transformers onto pins in preparation for soldering.

“He was using a tool he had made at home the night before so he could do his job faster and better,” Patterson marvels. “It was made of a little electric motor run on two AA batteries with a switch and device to grab onto the wire. He would push a button, and the motor would spin and wind up the wires. It was amazing.”

Lawrence is very matter-of-fact about it all. “Tools are required if you want to be able to get something more advanced done for yourself,” he says. “One you figure out how to make a tool that makes things better, it makes work not difficult anymore.”

ow five months into the job, Lawrence is already looking ahead to his future in the electronics field, taking his lead from senior members on his team. “I’m quite good at this and I already know I want to move from assembly to engineering,” he says. “I want to modify products to make them better. I want to be the one who designs and develops them.”

Patterson is quite aware of Lawrence’s planned career track, and enthusiastic about it. “Lawrence is absolutely quality driven; never puts out a bad part,” Patterson says. “He meets quality expectations 100 percent of the time. The only challenge we face is keeping up with his pace, keeping him interested. But that’s a good challenge to have.”