Winchester Community High School
Falcon Industries, the student-run shop at Winchester Community High School in Indiana, is ready to ship an order.

Progress and Promise As One Indiana High School Reimagines Manufacturing Education

Oct. 15, 2020
Winchester Community High School continues to transform its metals shop into an advanced manufacturing center. Ask the Expert contributor Larry Fast shares the latest progress.

(Photo caption: Falcon Industries, the student-run shop at Winchester Community High School in Indiana, is ready to ship an order.)

Recently, IndustryWeek published the article Ready to Print Micro Parts?  I have not done a good job keeping up with the state of the art on 3D printing, and I was struck by the tremendous progress that has been made in recent years. Boston Micro Fabrication was the featured company. I went to its website, and my light bulb came on! My first thought was that this is a technology we could likely work into our equipment complement at my hometown high school, Winchester Community High School (WCHS), in Winchester, Indiana.

I have written previous columns (here and here) on the transformation of the school’s dark and dirty metals shop, with decades old equipment and junk everywhere, to a state-of-the-art advanced manufacturing center (AMC). In just two years, all the old machines have been replaced with state-of-the-art industrial grade machines. The president of a local company visited, was impressed with the new factory, and asked if the students could make small quantities of dollies the firm uses every day in the shop. A few weeks after that, the first order was shipped, and the students received another order. And it continues.

Just a few months later, an idea came to us from another local company. The firm asked WCHS officials if the AMC could make a plastic part for it. The company needs are to shorten its supply chain and to establish another source for its part. During the last several weeks, the WCHS team and I had been gathering information about plastic molding, and in a recent call with an expert in the field, we finally began to understand many of the pros and cons of plastic molding. We briefly discussed the possibility that 3D printing might be an alternative for us to research. That research started with the BMF column. Once our research is completed, we intend to purchase the necessary equipment to go into business on plastic parts. Plastic molding vs. 3D printing. Stay tuned.

WCHS is on the leading edge of introducing world-class manufacturing in a high school setting.  Word spread that the AMC in Winchester was doing something special, and as a result, Terry Anker, president of the board for all Ivy Tech campuses in of Indiana, was invited to come for a visit. He confirmed that the AMC is on the leading edge of technology and manufacturing education.

“The work being done at WCHS AMC represents the leading edge of our state’s effort to get Hoosiers into skilled, high-paying and stable jobs,” he stated. “This kind of innovation is imperative for Indiana to remain attractive to employers and to retain the best and brightest of our youth.”   

There has been another recent development. With the plan to expand the customer base and broaden capabilities, how would the AMC students manage the business? School leadership shamelessly stole an idea learned on a benchmarking visit in 2019 to Cardinal Manufacturing at a high school in northwest Wisconsin. That school drew on non-manufacturing students to manage marketing, accounting and supply chain. This met important needs for their student business and provided a great opportunity for students interested in other endeavors. For example, a student who seeks to become a CPA took on the accounting function, while another took on marketing and developed the tools for product sales promotion. A student interested in supply chain oversees production and shipping.

This model is now in process at WCHS. Students from other parts of the school have prepared marketing materials to formally communicate capabilities and market products. Their work would compare favorably to any design and print shop.

A Third Grade Introduction to Manufacturing 

The last exciting thing to share is this: Starting in the fall of 2021, WCHS will begin manufacturing education classes starting with grade 3. Yes, third grade.  These students will get a close-up tour of the AMC, seeing high school students safely operate equipment, sustain 5S, do their own audits and work as a team with their classmates.  They also will be able to speak directly to the AMC students and get their questions answered.  They will meet the high school instructor who was voted “Teacher of the Year” last year.  Finally, Falcon Industries students will schedule and lead the tours. (Falcon Industries is the name of the student-run business operated within the AMC.)

Typically, students do not get exposed to manufacturing as a career option until high school, if then. Starting the education process early will help non-college-bound students, engineering-bound students, supply chain, etc., to make reasoned decisions about manufacturing as a career option. Absent this kind of education, most students would otherwise not consider manufacturing. That is where we are today.

Finally, let us all salute the manufacturing companies that are changing culture, leading change and driving continuous improvement. Expanding manufacturing provides well-paying jobs for American workers and a good standard of living for millions.  

Let us all challenge ourselves as manufacturing leaders to take a more proactive role in helping to increase the pool of manufacturing-inclined students. Adopt a high school in your area to put them on a path to greatness in manufacturing. Create a scholarship(s) for local students you want to recruit for your company. Work with your local high school administrators to establish or expand manufacturing training. Provide summer intern positions and expose students to the real world of manufacturing. Provide them with mentors and role models. Help to make change happen in the communities where you do business.

My view is that none of us has done enough to address the need for manufacturing education since the heyday of U.S. manufacturing a few decades ago. If the senior leader of every factory in America gets involved with the right mindset, positive change is inevitable. Let us put some muscle behind this and get it done while mentoring the next generation to do the same.

Larry Fast answers your questions in the IndustryWeek feature Ask the Expert: Lean Leadership. Fast is founder and president of Pathways to Manufacturing Excellence and a veteran of 35 years in the wire and cable industry. He is the author of The 12 Principles of Manufacturing Excellence, A Lean Leader's Guide to Achieving and Sustaining Excellence, 2nd. Edition.

Popular Sponsored Recommendations

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of IndustryWeek, create an account today!