#121 – Inside Our Industry – A Machining Company Run by High-Schoolers Thrives in Pennsylvania

Posted on | Inside Our Industry

Our focus this October has been on the manufacturing industry and vital it is to not only the U.S. economy, but also the world economy. Finding workers to fill the manufacturing jobs of the future remains a challenge for the industry. We love this story out of Pennsylvania that is addressing that issue. (Edited for length)

A Machining Company Run by High-Schoolers Thrives in Pennsylvania
Robert Zaruta (president/CEO of the Northwest Industrial Resource Center), Oct. 6, 2022, IndustryWeek.com

McDowell Manufacturing delivered its first order of parts to its first customer, Munot Plastics, in March 2021. Since then, business has been good. Oh, and by the way, this manufacturing business is run by students as a program at McDowell Senior High School in Millcreek Township, a suburb of Erie, Pennsylvania.

Even amid the pandemic during their first year, the students were busy and productive. They added new customers and gained hands-on experience running a manufacturing company, from production supervision, design and operating CNC machines to marketing, sales and quoting jobs.

McDowell Manufacturing recently began is its third year with more than 50 students enrolled (starting with a goal of only six students the first year, yet enrolling 21). Since 2021, the students have manufactured 13,522 parts for more than 10 companies. Using a robotic welder, they have also created their own original product—an industrial-looking coat hook that they have on consignment at local hardware stores.

Kyle Bucholtz, McDowell Manufacturing teacher/advisor, says the students not only get a great introduction to manufacturing—they gain experience “running a company, learning skills, and setting themselves apart for when they enter the workforce or continue their education.”

Northwest Industrial Resource Center (NWIRC), one of Pennsylvania’s seven Manufacturing Extension Partnerships, helps identify companies and potential projects for the enterprise and make the necessary connections.

Many of McDowell Manufacturing’s customers are also mentors to the students. Bryan Stempka, a McDowell High School graduate and vice president of family-owned manufacturer Advanced Welding Technologies (AWT), spends time at the school’s technology lab reviewing product specs and also hosts the students at his facility to provide a bigger picture of the business.

One of AWT’s customers is a large manufacturing company in the North American transportation industry. One of the parts they require typically involves short-run production with low tolerances and takes some time for machine setup. Stempka thought that would be a perfect part for the students to produce and would free up capacity at his job shop.

Proceeds from the revenue goes back into the program and is later awarded to graduates as scholarships to help with the costs of books and tools as they enter the workforce or continue their education.

Some students in the program have been hired into manufacturing companies, sometimes even before they graduate. Others have gone on to pursue college education in fields like engineering—with a manufacturing focus they hadn’t considered until working in this program.

The Nuts and Bolts of the Program

McDowell Senior High School started a Manufacturing Academy in 2019, offering credited courses in technology, design, engineering, CNC machining, safety and use of manufacturing equipment and software. NWIRC introduced the concept of the student-run manufacturing enterprise—McDowell Manufacturing—to put the coursework to practical use, with students producing actual parts, delivering services and add-in value as part of the supply chain for local manufacturers.

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