Trent Fransway of Chippewa Falls found a familiar face when he started classes in Chippewa Valley Technical College’s new Mechanical Design program at the start of the fall 2017 semester. Dr. Tim Walter, a retired physician and advisor to a robotics club that Fransway was a member of at Chippewa Falls Middle School, was enrolled in the program as well.
Fransway, a 2017 Chi-Hi graduate, likes familiar surroundings — and he likes to tinker.
“As a kid, I liked to take things apart and put them back together — a lot of stuff, from remote-control cars to lawnmowers,” he said. “I want to find a job around here so I can stay around my hometown. There is a lot of opportunity around here in Mechanical Design.”
Fellow CVTC student Noah Edlin, a 2015 Boyceville High School graduate, tells a similar story of his interests. “As a kid, I loved robots,” he said.
Employer demand for workers is the reason CVTC re-started the program in the fall 2017 semester after it had been dropped several years ago.
“About two years ago, local companies approached us about bringing back Mechanical Design,” said Jeff Sullivan, CVTC dean of skilled trades and engineering. “They had been hiring people from outside the area or hiring people from other programs and trying to develop them in the job.”
With components of CVTC’s Machine Tooling Technics and Manufacturing Engineering Technology programs, Mechanical Design focuses on the design of parts used in production in a mechanical setting, Sullivan said. Students learn computer-assisted design (CAD) and programs widely used in industry like SolidWorks. Available jobs include mechanical drafting and commercial or industrial designer.
“Jobs data shows salaries would be around $24 an hour,” Sullivan said.
“There is a great need for mechanical designers in the area,” said Shane Sullivan (no relation to Jeff), instructor and program director. “We set up an advisory committee and went around to business and industry. They all said they were ready to hire for internships right now.”
STEM with a twist
Mechanical Design is considered a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) field, but with a twist. “You need to know how materials work, how forces work and how machines work,” Shane Sullivan said. “But there is a creative part too. It’s about taking ideas and making them a reality.”
That was apparent to the 18 students in the Eau Claire class in the fall semester. They were given projects to do that required some creative thinking. A simple early project was a box containing four bolts of different sizes. Students had to design a single tool that could loosen and tighten all four. Some came up with belt-driven devices, others with a pivoting head tool with different size sockets.
Later in the semester, students were designing a four-bar mechanism that turned rotary motion into linear motion, driven by an electric motor.
“In a more advanced class, a project may be designing a transmission,” Shane Sullivan said. “We designed the program around problems, with students seeking solutions.”
“This is practice for what we do in the high school robotics club,” said Walter, perhaps the only student in the class who wasn’t planning a career in the field. “We study the specs, then you study by doing the design and manufacturing process.”
Fransway likes how the program is taking his mechanical inclinations to the next level.
“I needed more knowledge of materials and things of that nature,” he said. “I’d never gotten into the motion studies like we do here.”
Edlin recalls how he explored his interest in robotics as a child. “I would do draft drawings of robots I would see in movies. I went in depth into the parts of robots. It fascinated me. Now I can better understand the structure of a drawing and recreate in in CAD (computer-assisted design) form. I can take something in my mind and put it into a program and make it a reality.”
Edlin studied Mechanical Design at a university previously, but said he preferred how the CVTC program was structured.
“I envision being able to go into research and development,” Edlin added.
Josh Bartlett of Minocqua said he likes the flexibility and opportunities the program offers him. “I can go to UW-Stout from here and get my bachelor’s degree in engineering. It’s nice knowing everything I am doing here will transfer, so I’m not wasting any time,” Bartlett said. “And the placement in this program should be really high. There are places like Darley Pump, Curt Manufacturing, and Dynamic Fabrication and Finishing — that’s a lot of density right in this area.”