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Iowa State University Extension

CIRAS-arranged connection results in a slew of pleasant surprises

ISU students at Snap-on Tools

Extension’s Center for Industrial Research and Service (CIRAS) specializes in making connections — and sometimes those connections contain a few unexpectedly pleasant surprises.

During his regular rounds visiting northwest Iowa manufacturers, CIRAS account manager Bob Coacher became acquainted with Snap-on Tools, a company that makes upscale toolboxes for automotive and industrial use at its plant in Algona. That initial contact led plant manager Scott Marienau to inquire how the company could partner with Iowa State to improve its manufacturing process.

“Our facility here is very open to ideas to make our jobs better,” Marienau said. “We have a great attitude in the plant.”

Although Marienau wasn’t sure whether anything concrete would come from his request, he wanted to partner more proactively with Iowa State. The request itself took Coacher by surprise because he considers Snap-on to be a well-run company on the leading edge. However, it didn’t stump him; in fact, he had an obvious choice for a cooperative effort between the company and Iowa State.

Each CIRAS account manager is assigned a discipline within the ISU College of Engineering. Coacher’s area is the Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering. Students in that department’s senior design course need manufacturers who want their newly honed problem-solving skills, the first chance for them to apply all their engineering knowledge to the real world.

Subsequently, seven teams of students from IE 441 spent their fall 2007 semester making the two-hour trip to Snap-on to tackle projects outlined by Marienau and instructor Leslie Potter, who had observed the plant in action. The visits culminated in the teams’ presentations to the company in December 2007, when the final surprises were unveiled.

“I don’t know if I had a unique group, but we received a lot of neat stuff—practical stuff—from them,” Marienau said, adding that Snap-on gained dollar savings from the experience and the students gained too. “They hit the target on all seven projects,” Coacher concluded.

Not so surprising is that Snap-on Tools has already signed up to work with another class of Iowa State industrial engineering students. And CIRAS continues making more connections.

This article appeared in November 2008 -- From Jack Payne Newsletter