Small school, big fix: Florence High School fab lab helps Upper Michigan garbage truck manufacturerSubmitted: 07/12/2017
Story By Lane Kimble

Small school, big fix: Florence High School fab lab helps Upper Michigan garbage truck manufacturer
FLORENCE - Charlie Van Ginkel knows the ins and outs of a 30-ton, $250,000 garbage truck like the back of his hand.

"We build them from the ground up," Van Ginkel said.

Van Ginkel is the Chief Engineer for Kingsford, Michigan-based Lodal, Inc.  The company has built garbage and recycling trucks since the 1950s.  It produces around 100 trucks each year.  But this year, Van Ginkel faced a big problem on a small scale.

"We were already down to the point where we were getting in pretty dire need of them," Van Ginkel said.

Lodal, Inc. lost its warning panel light vendor, which meant it didn't have anyone to print important messages like "anti-lock breaks" or "check transmission" on lens covers for new trucks.

"We just get smaller quantities, [so] a lot of people didn't want to touch it," Van Ginkel said.

It turns out small is right in Florence High School's wheelhouse. Van Ginkel turned to the school's fab lab to see if it could help.

"You think engineering, it's mostly science and math, but this just seemed easier than that," former Florence student Glenn Berry said.

Berry, who graduated with 29 other seniors in June, took a fab lab class basically on a whim last semester. Berry was assigned the project along with seven other students.

"It was kind of a competition who could create the best product and then we would all come together and work on the better product," Berry said.

The students knew their laser engraver could do the job, but the machine kept burning the lens. A tip from a local business led to an easy fix: scotch tape.

"It worked great," Berry said.

"We did a little bit, a little bit, a little bit and then we keep moving forward," fab lab instructor Kay McLain said.

Lodal, Inc. was happy with the end result. The company now puts in small orders of 30 lenses often.

"They quickly worked through it and got us some, so, got us out of a bind," Van Ginkel said.

Berry says he prefers English courses to math and science, but he's happy to have helped out a business. Berry will go to UW-La Crosse in the fall to study physical therapy or medicine.

"Say I became like a doctor or something and I had a patient and had to brainstorm, see what their issue is, see how I can treat them, and that is the same [kind of problem solving as this,]" Berry said.

Lodal's trucks can be found as far away as Florida and Alaska. The company doesn't pay Florence for the school's work yet, but the two sides are working out a future deal.

"There is a lot of pride and I think we weren't afraid to jump in to the unknown," McLain said.

Florence wrapped up its second year with a fab lab in June. The school plans to expand the fab lab room --which used to be essentially a storage closet -- in the next year.

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