Manufacturing opportunities for the future

In Seymour High School’s Owl Manufacturing program, students have responsibilities that go far beyond passing a class.

Over the past school year, the 17 students set and worked to meet deadlines filling production orders for their customers.

In its second year, Owl Manufacturing operates as a real-life, student-led manufacturing business. The students are divided into teams, or “cells,” that take on different projects.

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Some worked on making vinyl products, including signs, banners up to 54 inches in length, stickers and even an order for window coverings for the school’s weight room.

This year’s multicolor vinyl team, led by junior Jeren Keller, received recognition for most jobs completed — more than 80 — during an awards banquet May 24 at the school.

“We had a good year and did a lot of production in vinyl,” Keller said.

He also won the award for best attendance and was one of three students who signed letters of intent to stay in the manufacturing career pathway.

The Haas CNC tooling team, led by junior Hunter Heckman, ended up partnering with The Seymour Brewing Co. for one of their projects to make custom-made tap handles for two of the business’ signature drafts.

Heckman said they are still limited on what they can do and had to turn some jobs down because they didn’t have the equipment needed. He is hoping they are able to acquire more diverse tooling for next year so as a group, they can do more.

He received the Instructor’s Award and also signed a letter of intent to work an internship at Innovative Castings Technology in Franklin this summer and at Excel Manufacturing Inc. in Seymour in the fall.

Owl Manufacturing instructor Curt Schleibaum said Heckman is not only an outstanding student but takes the time to make sure every student around him is learning, too.

“He is able to stand back away from the machines and put the other students in front of him to run the machines while he is standing behind them,” Schleibaum said. “He would never talk about himself that highly, but I cannot say enough of how special that is to watch a young individual so dedicated to someone else’s learning on top of their own.”

Besides vinyl and tooling, other Owl Manufacturing departments invoiced 13 jobs early in the year for three-dimensional printing and 17 jobs for laser engraving. They completed jobs including employee identification badges for school staff, years of service recognition mugs for Cummins Inc. and pet identification tags that were sold as a community outreach project for the Jackson County Dog Shelter.

Total pieces produced by Owl Manufacturing this year was right around 1,000, with 700 coming from laser printing, said instructor Jeremy Wischmeier.

The group also partnered with Seymour Main Street to set up its own retail storefront in downtown Seymour a few times during the year. The project gave them an opportunity to sell some of their products and more importantly get Owl Manufacturing’s name out in the community.

Another cell was in charge of assembling Creform white boards for Aisin USA Mfg. Although they had some initial struggles with getting measurements right, the students were able to complete 23 boards this year.

The construction department completed job requests for a Plinko board for the school’s FFA organization and repairing a book wagon for the Seymour Area Farmers Market.

New to Owl Manufacturing is the T-shirt printing press, which was only in use the last three months of the school year. Although the group hasn’t had any job requests yet, students have been able to learn the equipment and produce some shirts for the SHS CARR Club car show last month and their own Owl Manufacturing staff shirts.

Owl Manufacturing President Dylan Rigdon, a junior, takes his leadership position very seriously and is proud of what the company and the employees have become.

“All of us have grown a lot since the beginning,” he said. “Some of us are first year. Some of us are second year. I’ve very proud of these guys. They’ve blown me away this year with what they’ve accomplished.”

In its first year, Owl Manufacturing had around 30 to 40 invoiced jobs. This year, they ended with 113.

“That’s just an amazing increase,” Rigdon said.

He also said the profit-to-loss data represented a more than 600 percent increase from last year.

Rigdon said quality is important to every member of Owl Manufacturing.

“There’s nothing that comes out of Owl Manufacturing that I wouldn’t put my personal name on,” he said. “I love the standards that we have set for ourselves and what we have done this year.”

Besides quality products, Owl Manufacturing is producing quality leaders, too, Rigdon said. He received the Employee of the Year Award and signed his letter of intent to work an internship at Cummins this summer.

There was no debate on who deserved employee of the year, Schleibaum said.

Rigdon comes in early, stays late and would do anything for Owl Manufacturing, Schleibaum said.

Three seniors who graduated this year — Jared Myers, Devan Patel and Jose Martinez — also were recognized for their contributions to the program.

Myers said after being in Owl Manufacturing and running the T-shirt press, he realized he wants to work in manufacturing his whole life. He is planning to attend college in the fall to become an automotive technician.

Others receiving honors were Martinez, who received the President Giveaway Award from Rigdon, Alex Mejia earned the Rookie of the Year Award and Saul Parkison was named Most Improved for the year.

Schleibaum said it was “a year of a lot of firsts” for the program and compared their trials and errors to that of the Wright Brothers when working to build the first airplane.

With the delivery of new equipment twice this year, students had to learn how to operate the machines and also worked with an advisory board made up of industry leaders in the community.

The idea is to get feedback from industries to help find ways to easily transition students from school to the manufacturing workforce, Schleibaum said.

By meeting every other month with the advisory board to present their work and progress, the students were able to implement and practice other necessary skills employers are looking for when hiring.

Schleibaum said through the advisory board meetings and their daily work time, students are learning how to communicate and collaborate in ways they wouldn’t in other traditional classes.

“They are very hands-on students,” he said. “The adversity they’ve had to overcome this year with change of plans, change of procedure, change of paperwork, change of teachers’ heart, it’s been a pretty amazing time.”

He said he wished everyone could see how hard the students work each day and how dedicated they are to Owl Manufacturing.

They have essentially been writing their textbook for next year and working on their succession plan for Owl Manufacturing for years to come, Schleibaum said.

The future may include becoming members of the American Center for Student Run Manufacturing Businesses. Involvement with such an organization would give Owl Manufacturing students and teachers an opportunity to meet like-minded peers across the country to see how they are running their programs.

This fall, ACSMB is having a summit in Chicago that Schleibaum would like to take his students to.

“Owl Manufacturing is definitely unique,” he said. “It’s unique for Seymour, and not everything everywhere else is going to fit for us, but maybe we can bring some of the good stuff home.

“I always tell them that they are laying the foundation for something that is much bigger than this, I hope,” he added. “That we are growing and that it takes a lot of work to lay a good foundation for the Empire State Building rather than just a house in the suburbs.”

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”At a glance” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

Owl Manufacturing 2017-18 award winners

President Give Away Award: Jose Martinez

Rookie of the Year: Alex Mejia

Most Improved: Saul Parkison

Best Attendance: Jeren Keller

Most Jobs: Vinyl Group (Jeren Keller, Jose Martinez and Devan Patel)

Instructor’s Award: Hunter Heckman

Employee of the Year: Dylan Rigdon

Students signing letters of intent to continue in the manufacturing career pathway: Jeren Keller, Hunter Heckman and Dylan Rigdon