A real-world education
Waukesha engineering students develop solutions to manufacturing problem

By Lauren Anderson - Freeman Staff

Dec. 14, 2014

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 their industry.

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.

Close collaborations

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 factory.

Hydro-Thermal President Jim Zaiser commended the students on their work.

“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 help us.”

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 experience.

“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.”