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Not your father’s shop class: AHS students gain valuable manufacturing experience

By Ben Rodgers

ASHWAUBENON – Two Ashwaubenon High School seniors have designed and produced a gift that could be given to visiting foreign dignitaries to the state by the governor.

Eli Ronsman and Ryan Van Dyck have used the fabrication laboratory at the high school to create a coaster for a contest created by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.

“We looked at the guidelines which the competition gave us and we brainstormed on ideas that represented the state like machinery, manufacturing, things like that,” Ronsman said. “Then we looked at materials which represent the state and we decided on sugar maple, which is the state tree, and from there we wanted to figure out how we could incorporate machinery with this so we decided on a gear pattern.”

The students have completed the coaster and it will be submitted by Dec. 31, with judging set to start Jan. 10.

Ronsman and Van Dyck have worked together on computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-integrated manufacturing (CIM) for multiple years at the school.

“Eli designed it in 3D, it’s a model we can actually work with and play with,” Van Dyck said. “Right now, I’m working in Photoshop to make a picture so we can engrave the things we need to accurately.”

Using a state-of-the-art milling machine called a Haas machine, the students created the coaster from sugar maple.

Then they went to a laser printer to engrave the design.

“All this machine is is a laser printer, like you’d see in an office,” Van Dyck said. “It just has a very powerful head on it to burn and cut things down, it works exactly the same.”

However, with their current expertise and experience, designing a coaster is a tad beneath their skill set.

Van Dyck, who said he never wants to diminish the importance of a project, has created a suspension system for a Formula One race car during his time at Ashwaubenon High School.

He has worked with carbon fiber, aluminium, steel and nylon.

Together, he and Ronsman placed seventh out of 23 in the SkillsUSA competition after entering for the first time last year.

The duo was given a random machine part and a block of material, and in a day had to reverse engineer the part, create a model and design it in CAD and then create the same part, and finally take a written test.

Ronsman currently is in a youth apprenticeship program and spends most of his school day at Machine Plus in De Pere, designing and inspecting parts.

He plans to attend Northeast Wisconsin Technical College and complete a two-year machinist program.

Van Dyck comes from a family of engineers and may attend a four-year engineering school after graduating Ashwaubenon, or may continue to operate one of the small businesses he runs currently.

“The (coaster) project is simple and a little hokey, but the way they’re getting there is using skills for the 21st century,” said Tom Barnhart, a technology and engineering teacher at the high school.

According to Barnhart, the technology education program at the high school has undergone a drastic change in the past decade.

It moved away from a lab of computers to a manufacturing shop, thanks in part to the Ashwaubenon Technology and Engineering Advisory Board.

Made up of educators and local leaders in manufacturing, the board helps guide the curriculum to keep up with modern technology and make sure students are prepared for life after graduation in a rapidly changing workplace environment.

Numerous donations and grants have built up the fabrication laboratory in the high school to what it is today.
Students work on unique projects, like a remote operated vehicle for use for underwater searches, or even race cars they plan to run at Road America later in the school year.

All of this to help students get a leg up on entering the workforce and to make sure they enjoy what they do.

“I really don’t care about grades,” Barnhart said. “What I care about is did I do enough for these students to define their career path while in high school.”

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