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Centrotherm Eco Systems (CES) is a U.S.-based manufacturing company that specializes in the production of polypropylene vent systems and accessories for high-efficiency heating appliances, but that is not all it does. This summer, the Centrotherm factory doubled as a classroom.
In conjunction with QUESTAR III BOCES, Centrotherm hosted two educators as part of the STEM Research Institute Program. Over the summer, two local teachers trained alongside Centrotherm’s engineers and manufacturing team-members getting hands-on experience that they will bring back to their students when school starts back up in the fall. There is a tactile element to mechanical engineering that no number of lectures can provide; the only way to really learn what goes on in a manufacturing facility is to physically set foot on the factory floor. Two local teachers experienced a full summer of just that.
Kyle Crawford, a technology/engineering instructor in the Coxsackie-Athens Central School District, and Ryan Debrosky, a math teacher at Lansingburgh Middle School, were mainstays in the Centrotherm R&D laboratory and on the manufacturing floor.
Crawford and Debrosky worked directly with members of the Centrotherm engineering and operations staff. They even worked on projects that will help shape the InnoFlue product line moving into the future. Crawford was able to use a 3D printer, owned by his school district, which gave him insight into the creation of functional product designs. Having this piece of technology on hand paid immediate dividends as he helped design and 3D-print a new support strapping component that may very well become part of Centrotherm’s product offering.
Throughout the course of the program, each of the instructors could be seen on the manufacturing floor observing and participating in the various engineering and production processes that go into polypropylene manufacturing. They spent time on the line with Centrotherm Eco System welders and machine operators. They also worked under Dennis Ellis, CES’ production supervisor, and back in the lab with Ron Trefzger, CES’ director of engineering for Centrotherm’s U.S. manufacturing facility.
Trefzger, a 25-year veteran of the HVAC industry and manufacturing says, “this type of firsthand experience cannot be achieved in any other way; the STEM Research Institute program really offers these young teachers some irreplaceable experience in the field. You can sit at a computer desk and look at engineering drawings all day, but there is only one way to truly learn the ins and outs, and complex variables that go along with mechanical engineering. You have to be on the floor feeling the plastic to really get it. Crawford and Debrosky got to do just that this summer, and there’s no doubt that their students will benefit from their personal experiences. We, at Centrotherm, are very proud of that.”
Ultimately, the goal of the STEM Research Institute Program is to encourage and promote the development of the next generation of STEM thinkers. In order to do this, it’s imperative that those young pupils can turn to instructors who can impart real-world experience into the curriculum.
Now, Crawford and Debrosky will return to their respective classrooms with a greater understanding of the scope of product redesigns, engineering and manufacturing processes that go into their respective production, lean manufacturing principles, and with an increased awareness of how a manufacturing organization operates as a whole.
By moving around within the company, and spending time with a litany of Centrotherm staff members, these teachers got to experience something new almost every day. For Crawford, this was the most exciting part of the program.
“Watching the Centrotherm staff collaborate, from Ron’s initial part designs, all the way to the finished product as inspected by a quality specialist, was such a great learning experience. Learning from and working alongside all the different CES employees really helped me grasp the process as a whole, and when I get back to the classroom, there’s no doubt that I will be able to better communicate that to my students.”
Jim Molloy, vice-president of Business Development at Centrotherm Eco Systems, has focused his career on helping to revitalize American manufacturing and was excited to host the Summer Science Fellowship.
Molloy states: “Right before I completed my military service, there was a depressing trend of manufacturing jobs being shipped overseas. Imports were displacing the U.S. as the titans of the manufacturing industry, and I wanted to do what I could to help bring manufacturing jobs back to U.S. soil. Programs like the STEM Research Institute Program ensure that there will be educators armed with the real-world knowledge that will assure future generations of highly skilled workers are prepared for high tech manufacturing opportunities. The instructors we trained this summer will go back to the classroom with a unique skillset that could not be obtained elsewhere, solidifying the relationship between academia and manufacturing.”
Molloy also highlighted the influence the STEM Research Institute Program will have on the local workforce. “These instructors come from school districts in and around the Capital District of New York, they are teaching within miles of the Centrotherm manufacturing plant. The students who will be learning from Crawford and Debrosky will make up our local workforce in a few short years. They will support the growth of manufacturing in the capital district and beyond.”
Jane King, director of the STEM Research Institute Program, lauds both Centrotherm’s participation and the expected outcome that will resonate for generations: “Questar III is incredibly grateful to our first-year business partners, and the experience our teachers had at Centrotherm has been an overwhelmingly positive one. The skills they have learned will definitely impact what is going to happen in their classrooms this coming school year.”
King adds, “Centrotherm was part of the first year where we focused on the STEM field, and we are looking forward to a continued relationship, not only with CES, but with any and all STEM related high-tech organizations in the capital district. The STEM Research Institute Program is designed to impact the methodology our instructors employ in the classroom, and we believe these experiences will greatly influence and inspire a number of students to be prepared to pursue careers in STEM fields.”
Centrotherm was proud to host these young educators and hopes their experiences at the InnoFlue manufacturing facility help to influence the next generations of scientists and engineers.