Trent Fransway 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 adviser 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 Chippewa Falls High School 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.”
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 last fall 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, such as SolidWorks. Available jobs include positions like mechanical drafting and commercial or industrial designer.
“Jobs data shows salaries would be around $24 an hour,” Sullivan said.
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,” said Shane Sullivan (no relation to Jeff), an instructor and program director. “But there is a creative part too. It’s about taking ideas and making them a reality.”
That was apparent to 18 students in the Eau Claire class in the fall semester. They were given projects that required creative thinking, such as creating a box containing four bolts of different sizes and a tool that could loosen and tighten them.
Some came up with belt-driven devices, others with a pivoting head tool with different size sockets. Later, students designed a 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.”