Building Practical Experience in the “Hands On” Classroom at SMW Autoblok

In any career path, there is nothing quite like a short detour through the real world to put classroom training in perspective. That’s why we have had various forms of internship programs here for well over 20 years. It was mostly family and friends at the onset of the program, but about 5 - 7 years ago, we began reaching out to universities and technical colleges. We look for motivated juniors and seniors enrolled in industrial and mechanical engineering programs for our Engineering Department and business majors for Customer Service or other parts of our operation. We bring students in for the summer and holidays and expose them to the real life challenges of working in a business setting.

CSI_3963International Summer Exchange
One part of our internship program is our student exchange program with our operations overseas. College students come to work in the shop in the United States while their U.S.A. counterparts go to work in our operations in Italy and Germany. Kyle Downs, our Director of Marketing & Project Management, was an engineering assistant in Italy several years ago, taking hand drawings, converting them to computer designs and making dummy models of chucks. Our last overseas intern had just graduated with a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Milan and worked in our Engineering Department to gain experience before beginning his career in Italy.

Student Programs
Our summer college internship format is pretty consistent, but the programs are often customized to the intern’s field of study and what they are planning to do after graduation, blended with the needs of the company at that time.

Our general interns usually come from a business curriculum. They do anything from filing to data entry to answering the phone, giving them a feel for the operations of a modern professional business office.

Naturally the focus of engineering students is on…engineering. If they haven’t been exposed to Solid Works design software (which we use), we bring them up to speed by going through the tutorials. Then we teach them our product data management software (Phoenix), and how to integrate the two software platforms.

designsoftwareEngineering interns start with basic modeling of customer parts and, as they get used to the system, work on simple projects of their own under close supervision. Along with experience comes more responsibility, with the potential to start using GD&T tools to define and communicate engineering geometric dimensioning and tolerancing for customer projects.

But they don’t just sit behind a desk. Students work with other departments to help them fill in the gaps from the academic to the practical. This can mean getting their hands dirty with full-fledged parts operation and inspection work. They may even go on installations to see our products in operation in a full-production manufacturing facility, allowing them to really see our products in action.

Meet Our Summer Intern
Our current engineering intern, Jack, will be a junior this fall at Valparaiso University, working on a degree in mechanical engineering. After spending the last two summers as a camp counselor, he was very excited for the opportunity to work in his area of interest this year.

“The job has already given me the chance to get my feet wet and learn engineering basics in a working format,” Jack said. “It’s an entirely different perspective from the classroom and will definitely help me determine what direction my career will take after graduation.”

Jack is being taught to design with an eye towards making things easier to manufacture. “This experience will be invaluable when I take CNC classes in the fall since I’ll already know how the machines and components work.”

Why We Do It
Having interns during the summer and holiday can boost our productivity. Interns take on their share of challenging, but more time consuming tasks that our full-time staff may not have time for.

But more importantly, working with interns is one way to give back to our industry by exposing talented students to manufacturing. We want to help reverse the trend of outsourcing production overseas because of the shortage of talent in the US pipeline. Even if our interns seek jobs elsewhere, we are still providing skilled young people a look into our world of manufacturing so they can make informed career decisions.