When people in the Strum, Wisconsin, area need a custom part machined or fixed, they often turn to a group of talented high school students to get the job done.
Cardinal Manufacturing is a highly unique tech ed course at Eleva-Strum High School that is also a real company run entirely by students at the school.
The students’ capabilities include woodworking, welding, lathing, milling, grinding and metalworking, and they apply their education by working on real projects for clients. Cardinal Manufacturing takes on a wide variety of jobs, ranging from welding a railing for a church to cutting keyways for a local manufacturer to patching up rust holes on a dump truck.
“We can fabricate, weld and machine low-volume, custom parts using many different materials for a low cost,” says Craig Cegielski, a tech ed teacher at Eleva-Strum High School who leads the Cardinal Manufacturing program. “The money we make all goes back into supporting the educational program. Clients usually come to us through word of mouth, and we’re extremely busy trying to keep up with the very high demand for our services.”
When Cardinal Manufacturing recently sought to make improvements to its facility, Cegielski turned to the UW-Madison mechanical engineering senior design program for help with a significant project. For their 2021-2022 senior design project, students Reagan Hubbard, Rushi Patel, Kevin Chang and Armando Miracola were tasked with designing a decorative, yet functional, custom gate and fence system to enclose Cardinal Manufacturing’s unsightly dumpsters and recycling bins, which are located near the company’s storefront and highly visible to the public.
Over two semesters of work, the team has created a SolidWorks model that represents the entire skeleton structure with accurate dimensions, materials and aesthetics. The team has developed a preliminary bill of materials and is researching fastener components and developing an assembly method to fasten the posts of the structure to the concrete and asphalt bases. The UW-Madison students also designed custom hinges due to the weight constraints of the gates. As the students continue to iterate and optimize their prototype, they are performing FEA analyses and motion studies within SolidWorks to ensure proper functionality.
Beyond the technical challenges the team had to solve, the students say the project helped them develop soft skills and gain experience in understanding their clients’ needs, expectations, and design constraints.
“This project has allowed me to apply knowledge that I’ve gained from many of my previous engineering courses to an open-ended problem,” Hubbard says. “It has taught me effective communication skills and how to work efficiently as a team. The project has been a wonderful hands-on experience in learning about real-world engineering tasks, the design process and working with clients. I have developed many useful skills that I will carry over into my future career.”
At the end of the spring 2022 semester, the team will deliver the final engineering designs, a bill of materials and assembly instructions to the client. Then the Cardinal Manufacturing students will leverage their skills to manufacture and assemble the structure themselves.
“I’m excited to help the Cardinal Manufacturing students further develop their manufacturing skills and to see our design materialized in the real world,” Patel says. “Seeing the end product successfully meeting the clients’ expectations would be the most rewarding thing about this project.”
The collaboration between Cardinal Manufacturing and the UW-Madison mechanical engineering senior design program was sparked by Bjorn Borgen (BSME ’62), a distinguished alumnus of Eleva-Strum High School and the UW-Madison Department of Mechanical Engineering. After earning his mechanical engineering degree and an MBA from Harvard University, Borgen built a highly successful career as a leading financial manager and entrepreneur. He has been a generous supporter of both Cardinal Manufacturing and the Department of Mechanical Engineering, and he facilitated connections between the programs in the spirit of the Wisconsin Idea.
It’s a relationship forged over time: UW-Madison mechanical engineering students have worked on several other senior design projects with Cegielski and Cardinal Manufacturing as the clients in past years.
“I’ve been very impressed with the UW-Madison students’ professionalism and high-quality work on all the projects,” Cegielski says. “They’re getting some real-world experience with leading full engineering design projects and, at the same time, they are certainly providing a valuable service to Cardinal Manufacturing, and we appreciate the great solutions the students come up with.”