Arrowhead Students

Arrowhead Engineering Students Show Amazing Promise


Imagine being a school student with a passion for engineering, and getting to solve real-world manufacturing problems. For a group of Arrowhead High school juniors and seniors, this isn’t just a dream. They were able to do so at Versevo.

Anthony Christian, technical education teacher at Arrowhead High School in Hartland, WI, devised a college-level capstone project to give aspiring engineers a sense for what’s involved in engineering and problem-solving in an industrial environment. Earlier this year, he worked with Versevo to arrange a foundry tour for 30 engineering students. At the end of the tour, the Versevo team presented the group with a set of 10 real problems and issues it’s trying to solve.

“We covered everything from rotary degassing of aluminum and casting traceability to improving workflow and reclaiming aluminum from dross,” explains Versevo VP of Engineering Tim Kauffung. The group picked two challenges, and divided into two groups of four students each. The challenges they selected were:

  • Automated parts washing: After a part is cast, how can they automate the process of washing it to remove casting residue? Today, it’s a time-consuming manual brush and wash task.
  • Autonomous casting conveyance: Currently, Versevo utilizes vertical lift storage systems in its operation. One forklift operator moves everything from raw materials for castings and fixtures to tools and kitted assemblies. How could this be replaced by an autonomous vehicle that could flexibly traverse the foundry floor to deliver materials and parts where they’re needed? There were several criteria: the vehicle would need to operate over dirty floors, and it had to travel without wires, magnetic tape or buried cables.

As part of their classroom work, these talented high school students first needed to research any existing solutions to these challenges, and analyze their cost versus estimated return on investment. “This is a really important aspect of what we do when we look for solutions,” Kauffung reveals. “The greatest solution in the world doesn’t make sense if it’s too expensive.”

To Kauffung’s surprise, both teams discovered many of the same vendors and solutions as Versevo’s engineering team did. “For example, they discovered that existing automated material handling solutions have weight limitations. They can only move objects up to 1,800 lbs. We need a system that can handle parts up to 3,000 lbs.”

During their research and solution development process, they had access to Christian and to Lucas Weyenberg, who started his professional career as an intern with Versevo while he was attending UW-Stout. “Lucas helped keep them on the right path, work through cost issues and redirect them toward practical solutions that really could work,” says Kauffung.

Each team documented its findings and presented them to the Versevo senior management team. They were expected to share the story of how they worked through failures and redirections to arrive at their final solutions. One team even presented a marketing campaign, complete with a slogan for their product.

Each team then demonstrated a rough prototype of their proposed solution. “These were proofs of concept only. For example, you couldn’t expect students to program an artificial intelligence-powered material handling system. But the team did use an Erector set (metal pieces joined with nuts and bolts) to build a basic vehicle with sensors that could move itself under a part, raise its lift table and then move the part.”

“Both teams did a great job of not only presenting the thinking and engineering behind their solutions, but they also provided very thorough ROI analyses,” Kauffung pointed out. “This class armed them with a strong set of problem-solving tools they can use in just about any environment, not just manufacturing.”

Kauffung admitted the quality of thinking that went into their presentations and their prototypes was truly impressive. “It’s a testimony to the teacher, the faculty of Arrowhead High School and the incredible quality of the students themselves. There’s no doubt in my mind that many of them will go on to do great things!”

What’s in it for Versevo?

Kauffung says manufacturing is evolving rapidly, which means Versevo must seek out a higher-level of candidate in the years ahead. At the same time, it’s getting harder to find skilled people who want to choose manufacturing as a career.

“Under the circumstances, it makes sense to step up our efforts to present Versevo as an attractive place to work, and to build good will in our industry and our community. This type of high school partnership is one way we can do that,” he concludes.