In a competition seemingly of David versus the Goliaths, a trio of Muskegon Community College students represented West Michigan industry with flying colors when their product took first place at the 78th Annual Wisconsin Regional Foundry Conference and Exposition casting competition last week in Milwaukee.
The lone community college competing, the MCC team defeated a field that featured entries from seven four-year colleges and universities: Michigan Tech, Western Michigan University, University of Northern Iowa, Pittsburg State University (Kansas), University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, University of Wisconsin-Platteville, and Mohawk College from Canada.
“This is huge,” said MCC Instructor Jeff Johnston, the college’s liaison with the West Michigan Chapter of the American Foundry Society (AFS) that has more than 50 member industries from Cadillac to Kalamazoo. “The chapter members are beyond thrilled with our first place finish.”
MCC students Brad Cook, Lori Stone and Tyler Carr worked as a team from late October right up to the convention in February on their award-winning entry – a high duo front leg – that emerged from their discussions with Media Technologies of Shelby, MI, which produces educational furniture.
“We had a whole list of different ideas, this was one of them,” said Cook, a third-year MCC student who “grew up in a foundry home” and plans to pursue a metallurgy degree at Michigan Tech. “We didn’t originally want to go with it because it was small. We didn’t think we could do much with it, but everything else kept falling apart because of how we limited are. The rules of the competition are that everything has to be made at the college.”
“Brad is the conduit from last year’s team, so he knew what judges are looking for at the competition,” said Johnston.
The independent AFS judges evaluate each entry on its benefits delivered to the casting customer, the use of the casting process’ unique capabilities, the quality and workmanship, and the poster and booth presentation at casting competition.
Cook and Johnston had met in the fall with Media Technologies about their needs. The MCC team had used the college’s 3-D printer to create a fabricated chair leg part that they believed could help the company.
“A fabrication is stamped parts or machine parts that are welded together,” explained Johnston. “The MCC team wanted to make a three-piece fabrication into a single piece casting. When they did that, they took the weight out because they went from steel to aluminum, so there was a cost reduction right there. When they went to aluminum, they took away the steel, which corrodes and rusts. Aluminum doesn’t rust. So there’s no secondary process of coating it.”
In effect, the MCC team replaced a three-piece metal part with multiple welds that had to be coated and weighed 1.54 pounds. In its place, they created a one-piece air-set sand mold aluminum casting that weighed just 0.54 pounds. The result would be a 37 percent cost reduction as well as a decrease in production time.
The MCC team, which exhibited their product during the Milwaukee convention, also made a formal evening presentation there.
“They didn’t have any questions for us afterward, so we knew we did well,” said Stone, who worked at Herman Miller before attending MCC to pursue a computer programming degree with a plan to return to her former company. “We never knew who the judges were when they came to our booth. We made sure that every person who visited was treated as if they were a judge. We encouraged everyone to actually sit on the chair and try it out. We even had some of the exhibitors congratulating us on how well of a job we did.”
At the awards presentations, the drama lingered for the MCC team. Their category was the last on the agenda. Finally, Pittsburg State was awarded third and Wisconsin-Platteville took second.
“Then they started to say, ‘This group is really focused on what the customer needs…,” recounted Cook.
“And we knew we had it!” quickly added Stone.
After finishing third in 2014 and second in 2015 and 2016, MCC had taken home the $2,500 first place prize. The money goes to the AFS Student Chapter, explained Cook, adding that this year’s MCC team used previous prize earnings to pay for their lodging.
Although the metals casting class wasn’t offered this year, the students were quick to thank MCC instructors Joel Yates and Mark Houston for going the extra mile to make their dream a reality.
“Once you get into the chapter, you find out there’s a lot of networking in a small community and how many people are really there for you at Muskegon Community College,” explained Stone. “All you have to do is ask and they are there to help you, no matter what. They want you to succeed, whether it was local businesses for materials or having one of our instructors who was sick stay late to keep the room open so we could use the machine.”
“We did a project from start to finish and having it pay off was well worth it,” said Carr, a second semester MCC student who plans to pursue electrical engineering at Western Michigan University, reflecting on the hundreds of hours his team invested.
For Cook, the long-term rewards were obvious.
“This is kind of what I imagine doing in my career as a metallurgist,” he concluded. “Turning a three-piece welding into a single casting is right up my alley in the long run. I’ll have this on my resume, for sure.”