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Benedictine-students-observe-SKF-worker.jpg Ryan Secard
Two Benedictine students pause on their way around SKF’s factory floor to watch an employee at work.

Automation, Automotive Innovation, and Airpods: On the Trail of Future Engineers on Manufacturing Day 2019

I followed the Benedictine Engineering Club on their Manufacturing Day tours to gain some insight into what excites the next generation of manufacturers most.

As a part of IndustryWeek and Applied Industrial Technology’s celebration of Manufacturing Day, a handful of editors from IndustryWeek invited local high school students to join them on October 9 for tours of local, Cleveland-area factories. I joined the Benedictine Engineering Club and followed them on their Manufacturing Day journey. Benedictine is an all-boys private, Catholic high school in Cleveland that, since 2015, has rapidly grown its engineering program.

The first stop was SKF’s plant in Highland Heights, where we were greeted by Patricia Wilson, director of operations, Solution Factory North. She showed the students into a small gallery of the various products SKF worked on there, including a bearing almost the same size as some of the smaller students, and invited them to look around before the tour of the factory floor. She also mentioned that the students would be invited to take a quiz afterwards on what they saw, with one lucky winner to receive a pair of Airpods.

On the shop floor, the students split into two groups and saw three stations featuring products made by SKF: seals, bearings, and spindles. At the bearings station, the students huddled around a metal table. A tin on the table held a curious sample of bright blue goo with the consistency of cookie dough. Nearby, two workers packed the goo into bearings and cooked them. This was Solid Oil, a solid lubricating product made of a polymer matrix saturated with lubricant. The matrix sheds oil when it encounters friction, providing an efficient way to consistently lubricate bearings on machines located in harsh environments or inconvenient locations.  The students felt the oil, squished it in their hands, and cracked jokes about Play-Doh before moving on to the next station.

One student, junior Luke Failisi, was impressed by the degree to which the tour guides emphasized the role of continuous improvement: “When I think about engineering, I assumed that you needed to know everything,” he said. “Today, I learned that you need a foundational education before you enter the working world and … continuously learn from your opportunities and experiences.”

The second stop of the day was ABB, in Highland Hills, Ohio, and the contrast with SKF was remarkable. Where SKF was more of a ‘shop-floor’ kind of place, with machinery and shelving and work happening all around, ABB was a sleeker, more futuristic environment. Where SKF had workers wearing PPE on the shop floor, using CNC, and assembling specialized seals and bearings, ABB had glass walls, simulators, and glittering server racks.

One room we visited was almost entirely bereft of workers. The students were noticeably confused, until our tour guide informed us that many of the employees work remotely. Junior Ryan Plisko summed it up later, saying he had “realized the scope of manufacturing opportunities available.” Another student, senior DeShaun Valentine, lingered behind the rest of his tour group to ask a few extra questions with one of ABB’s cybersecurity experts. He said later that “the cybersecurity presentation has increased my interest in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering,” and said that visiting ABB was his favorite part of the tour.

The penultimate leg of the Engineering Club’s Manufacturing Day experience was sitting just outside IndustryWeek headquarters at the Oswald Building in downtown Cleveland—Jim Johnson’s NASCAR #48 stock car. This time, nobody needed directions: the students shot off the bus and into a tight semicircle around the car. More than a few hands reached out to touch it before drawing back reverently. “Oh, that’s dope,” one student remarked as they examined the welding inside the car.

The man responsible for bringing the car along, Troy Vanderhoof, director of Siemens Digital Industries, was standing beside it, and he quickly drew the kids in with a close discussion of the car’s carefully-tuned specs: the aerodynamics of the body, the precision welding of the interior, and the “fins” on top of the car that deploy in the case of a crash. The young engineers peppered Vanderhoof with questions, which he gamely answered. Each answer only increased the youths’ fascination. Of special note was the fact that many of the car’s parts were custom-designed in Siemens' NX software to be as light as possible; Yvonne Schiffer, the group’s advisor, pointed out that the students could elect to learn CAD as part of their engineering curriculum.*

One question, sadly, was not satisfied: when one student asked if they could hear the car start up, anticipating a mighty roar, Vanderhoof regretfully answered that the car didn’t have its engine in. A sigh of general disappointment went up, but was dispelled by further questions on the car’s capabilities. Vanderhoof managed to hold the boys’ attentions rapt until it was time for the final feature of the day, IndustryWeek’s Networking Lunch and Panel Discussion on Finding your Path to Manufacturing, where they met up with the other local student groups from Beaumont School, John Marshall School of Information Technology, and John Hay High School, for a series of panels and boxed lunches.

The panel speakers included Troy Vanderhoof, from Siemens; Dominic Camino, a systems engineer for ABB; Marian Cordos, production supervisor at SKF; Vincent McGill, a welder and pieceworker at Lincoln Electric; Eric Logan, principal of industrial manufacturing strategy at KPMG, Jason Vasquez, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Applied Industrial Technologies. After the panel, which brought together manufacturing workers from the shop floor to the C-suite to talk to the kids about what manufacturing was like, the students were bused back to their campuses, carrying promotional string backpacks and the hopes of the manufacturing industry with them.

Check out the link below for more photos and a write-up of the day from Benedictine Engineering Club advisor Yvonne Schiffer.

*This sentence has been corrected to fix an earlier mistake. We regret the error.

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