From “CVTC team’s winning invention makes kids’ bikes more visible” — Bob Grzegorek watched the taillights on the bicycle his 12-year-old son was riding move further away into the darkness.

He saw the lights brighten as the boy applied the brakes, then return to normal brightness, still visible 200 feet away.

Grzegorek knew then that the product he and his fellow team members from the Chippewa Valley Technical College chapter of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers developed was a good one.

“It’s about safety for the kids. This might save a life,” Grzegorek said of the bicycle brake lights the team created.

Grzegorek isn’t the only one who likes the product.

“We had a team of 12 engineers looking at this and they all thought it was a great idea,” he said.

That judging team awarded the CVTC team second place in the 2013 SME Student Design Manufacturing Competition at the SME International Conference in Baltimore, Md., earlier this month.

The product, called the Solar Brake Assembly, gives a bicycle rear taillights and brake lights that work like those on a car or motorcycle. The lights are powered by two AA rechargeable batteries that are automatically charged by a solar panel mounted on the rear of the bicycle. LED lights ensure plenty of brightness with little power used. A mere four hours of daylight fully recharges the batteries.

Engineers at the conference said the solar brake assembly is certainly marketable, perhaps patentable. Where the product goes from here is uncertain. For now, team members, which include electromechanical engineering students Grzegorek, Adam Clark, Benjamin Paffel and Jon Keeley, and manufacturing engineering student Scott Steenerson, are thrilled to have done so well.

“I told the guys, even if we didn’t place, we’re still winners, no matter what,” Grzegorek said.

The team finished second to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, but ahead of PEC University of Technology in Chandigarh, India; Wichita State University in Kansas, and the University of Colorado. CVTC was the only two-year school in the competition.

The genesis for the CVTC entry was a trip to the SME International Conference in Cleveland last year, where 10 college teams took part in the contest. CVTC SME Chapter Advisor Tom Vanderloop encouraged his students to give it a try.

Grzegorek was on that trip and started brainstorming right away. The team was formed last fall.

“The team wanted to try something outside their experience with a focus on safety and renewable energy. Our original idea was an electric scooter, but we realized we would not have a budget large enough, or the time to completely manufacture our own design, not to mention the wide commercial availability (of electric scooters) we discovered upon early research,” Grzegorek said.

It was Grzegorek’s idea to narrow the concept to the brake and tail light assembly. Other team members contributed their ideas, and soon the team was designing a printed circuit board for a solar recharging system.

The target market was children’s bicycles, but team members thought it would work just as well for adult bicycles and electric-powered mobility devices often used by elderly people.

“The team researched the idea at a local bicycle business and found that the concept had not yet been explored,” Grzegorek said.

Each team member contributed in his own way.

“I got to do a lot of the soldering,” Paffel said. “This was a new experience for me, since I’m just out of (Eau Claire North) High School.”

“I helped design the circuits and selected what parts we used,” Clark said.

One of the most challenging aspects students encountered was finding time to work together outside of class. Team members have families at home and jobs outside of school.

“It was just amazing how they put everything together and worked as a team,” Vanderloop said.

The team received important contributions from community resources. CVTC nanotechnology instructor Hans Mickelson helped develop a photo circuit board for solar power. Kurt Carlson, a CVTC nanotechnician with an English background, helped with written work. And Jason Ming of Dimension X Design, a thermoform services company in Altoona, developed a means of showing judges how the product would look presented at a retail store.

Such efforts impressed the judges, as did the team’s presentation focusing on safety and saving lives. Engineers at the conference asked team members what they planned to do with their invention. Grzegorek has heard obtaining a patent is a long, expensive process and there would be some question as to who would own the patent.

“We’d like to market the idea to a company,” Grzegorek said.

If there is any money to be made from their endeavor, team members said they would like to see it go toward people like themselves, perhaps in the form of an SME scholarship fund. Team members likely won’t get rich from the invention, not directly anyway. Still, their efforts appear to have resulted in a boost for their personal careers.

Students’ work made a positive impression on conference attendees, Vanderloop said.

“These guys were offered opportunities for work a number of times,” he said. “Guys came up to them and said ‘When you guys graduate, I want to see your resume.’ ”

The sustainability focus of the contest fit in well with Clark’s plans.

“I’d like to make a contribution at a factory with a good culture of sustainability,” he said.



From “Instructor’s passion for manufacturing evident” — Tom Vanderloop’s enthusiasm is contagious. His students in manufacturing programs at Chippewa Valley Technical College feel it, and so do the members of the student chapter of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, for which he is chapter advisor.

“Tom has an extreme passion for everything he teaches, and for SME,” said Bob Grzegorek, chairman of the student chapter. “He got me more passionate about it to become chairman. We went from four student members to 22. We worked hard to do better.”

“The passion is very real in him,” said Jim Barbey, a May CVTC graduate who served as an SME student chapter officer. “It’s not just something he says or does; it’s real. That’s really why I joined SME.”

Vanderloop’s passion and service to SME dates to his first involvement in the organization in the 1970s. Now SME is recognizing his contributions, through the Faculty Advisor Professional Development Award, a national honor he is to receive at the SME annual meeting in Baltimore, Md., June 2-4. The award comes with a $500 stipend, which Vanderloop donated to the CVTC Foundation scholarship fund for the betterment of students in manufacturing programs.

Vanderloop has taught technical education for the past 38 years, including 28 at CVTC. He looks to his roots for inspiration.

“So much of what I do today came from my Christian father, mother and family. (My) attributes stem from a life within a healthy family environment,” he said.

The word “manufacture,” Vanderloop said, is derived from a French root meaning “made by hand.”

“It was the story I have always found from within my father’s work ethic. Manufacturing is a good and noble profession as a career for life,” he said. “My goal is simple: Love what you do and that passion will show up every day. Most students know I love my role as a teacher. It is manufacturing that guides my professional contributions.”

Vanderloop’s contributions to SME have occurred throughout his career. He first joined the organization in 1968 when he was a student at Fox Valley Technical Institute in Appleton. He remained involved as an undergraduate student at UW-Stout in the early ’70s, then as an assistant professor there in the early ’80s.

Vanderloop became the SME North Central Region chairman and served in various offices in the region. With the SME Indianhead Chapter in Eau Claire, he served at various times as chairman, bulletin editor, recruitment and retention committee official, student chapter liaison, faculty advisor, technical programming official and certification official.

In 2010 Vanderloop was named the SME’s President’s Circle with a gold-level status for having recruited more than 125 people to SME.

A measure of an educator’s success is in the level of their students’ achievement. The list of successful CVTC students Vanderloop has taught and led is a long one.

The founding SME student chapter chairman from 1985, Kevin Gottwalt, is now with Cardiac Pacemakers in St. Paul. In 1987, Chairman Mark Senti pushed the chapter to encourage students to seek SME certification as manufacturing technologists through a difficult test. SME recognized the chapter for its efforts when Chris Hurt was chairman in 2000-01; Hurt is metal fabrication CAD designer with Wisconsin Metal Fab in Chippewa Falls.

In all, more than 200 CVTC students have passed the test since 1985, a remarkable level of success, Vanderloop said.

Jill King, the 1997-98 SME chapter chairwoman, helped organize the first-ever Challengers and Choices program, designed to introduce middle school-age girls to career choices in manufacturing. The effort earned a national award of excellence.

“It’s a good marker not just for myself, but for the college,” Vanderloop said. “If I’ve got good students, they make me look good.”


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