Cade Campbell and Garrett Lamb pitch
their idea for a fixture to hold Hydroheaters during service
in a meeting at Hydro-Thermal Corporation Friday morning.
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff
WAUKESHA — Seniors Cade Campbell and Garrett Lamb stood
before a group of manufacturing leaders at Hydro-Thermal
Corporation Friday morning, pitching an invention they have
been laboring on for the past two months.
As Campbell told audience members, the opportunity to
develop a real solution to a real-world problem is “not
something you get to do every day.”
But projects like the Waukesha Engineering Preparatory
Academy students’ invention may become more common as local
manufacturing representatives work to recruit students into
The Hydro-Thermal project was the brainchild of a Waukesha
County Business Alliance committee, which encourages
mentoring students. This year, six area businesses have
signed on to such partnerships.
In October, Hydro-Thermal employees approached the
engineering students with a problem. The Waukesha-based
manufacturing company’s product, direct steam injection
heaters, are large, top-heavy and unstable. For years,
employees have used C-clamps or vise grips to fasten them to
tables during the testing and assembly process. But if they
were to fall, an employee could get hurt or the heaters
could be damaged.
Hoping for something more than a makeshift solution,
Hydro-Thermal Quality/Process Improvement/Safety Leader Bill
Rheingans asked the students to develop a better holding
fixture concept. It had to be safe, simple, flexible and
inexpensive to produce, he said.
Heather Kolton describes the
problems her group, including herself, John Wallace, Steven
Broda, Joseph Peterson and Arron Taylor, were trying to
solve as they designed a fixture to hold Hydro-Thermal
Hydroheaters for service.Charles Auer/Freeman Staff
Students broke into five groups and began brainstorming
ideas. They built prototypes in the school’s woodshop and
tested them in Hydro-Thermal’s facility. Many students found
their original plans didn’t work and made alterations in the
final weeks before their presentations.
Teacher Andy Weber said representatives from Mortenson
Construction of Brookfield also worked with the class on
presentation and communication skills during the project.
While ideas differed from group to group, students said they
worked collaboratively with their classmates.
“It was a very cool opportunity that we got to work so
closely on this sort of thing with our classmates and come
up with, at least in my opinion, some really brilliant
ideas,” Campbell said.
Students presented their work on Friday to a panel of
Hydro-Thermal representatives. If the panelists find an idea
particularly impressive, they may decide to use it in the
Hydro-Thermal President Jim Zaiser commended the students on
“I’m really thankful you guys worked on our project,” he
said. “At the end of the day, it really is going to help our
ability to assemble things, so it’s great that you guys can
After the presentations, Rheingans said he was impressed by
the students’ concepts.
“They’re very talented,” he said. “I never thought we’d get
such creativity. This is creativity at its best.”
Waukesha School District Career and Tech Ed Coordinator Amy
Lange noted the value of students having a hands-on learning
“It really puts education at a whole new level when you have
those business partnerships and when kids are really a part
of the real world and not just in the classroom,” she said.
Mary Baer, Waukesha County Business Alliance’s vice
president of community engagement, said as students gain
exposure to the manufacturing and engineering industry, they
will see the value in taking that career path.
She said students need to know there is an alternative to
the traditional four-year college degree track.
“You can find something in this industry that you can be
passionate about and support you and your family with,” she
said. “A four-year degree is not the definition of success.”