Lawton tackles the future of technical talent

Lawton Future Talent

By Brandon Leatherberry, Engineering Manager

10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age every day in the U.S. They’ve invested decades in the companies they work for, and they are a wealth of knowledge and experience. Each day, they wave goodbye to the workforce, and their knowledge walks out the door with them. Meanwhile, we’re scrambling to figure out how to capture their knowledge and experience, so young people just entering the workforce don’t need to re-learn what they knew.

Here at The C.A. Lawton Co., we have begun a journey that will hopefully ease this transition in the years to come. In May, I contacted Dr. Kyle Metzloff at the University of Wisconsin – Platteville regarding the foundry area of its Industrial Studies program. I was interested to learn about the types of project work, facilities and students who participated in the program.

Dr. Metzloff is well respected within the foundry industry, and his zeal for educating is unmatched. During our conversation, he gave me an overview of the work his students are doing with 3D printing, gating design, simulation, mold making, casting, machining and material evaluation.

Dr. Metzloff also offered to host members of the Lawton team for a tour of the university’s foundry program and to view completed student presentations from his Casting II course. This hands-on course requires students to:

  • Select a part to produce,
  • Design tooling and gating,
  • Perform simulations to confirm optimum gating design,
  • Construct a mold by hand,
  • Melt and engineer metal to meet specific requirements,
  • Pour the part, and
  • Evaluate material properties.

After my conversation with Dr. Metzloff, I spoke with the Lawton executive team. We agreed to take him up on his offer. On May 16th, Alex Lawton (CEO), Ron Baus (Director of Project Management), Jeff Taylor (Casting Engineer), and I travelled to Platteville, WI, where Dr. Metzloff gave us a tour of the Metal Casting Lab. There, he showed us an impressive array of equipment that he and his team have been able to acquire or engineer on their own. These machines enable Dr. Metzloff to expose his students to many types of casting manufacturing processes.

We also were able to view their material testing equipment and machining centers, including tensile testing and metallographic equipment. Additionally, we met a number of students working on their projects. We were impressed with their willingness to share their experiences with us.

After the tour and discussion, we had the opportunity to watch multiple presentations on ductile iron, gray iron and other cast iron materials. Each of the students presented their work; it was quite clear that they were gaining excellent practical experience in metal casting that will translate well to industry.

Our team agreed there was great value in developing a relationship with this excellent foundry education program. So here’s what we’re doing:

  • We are supporting it through the Foundry Education Foundation (FEF).
  • We plan to sponsor AFS Student Chapter Meetings in future semesters,
  • We will be establishing a student co-op program to provide students an opportunity to apply their skills at our foundry in De Pere, and
  • We will also continue conversations with Dr. Metzloff to uncover other opportunities to support his work with his students.

In closing, it’s disheartening to see so many experienced “boomers” with so much knowledge exiting the workforce and taking their knowledge with them. But we’re also very encouraged by the next generation entering the workforce, thanks to innovative programs like this one at UW-Platteville. The practical skill sets these students are developing, plus their exposure to new technology, is positioning them well to support the foundry industry for years to come.

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