Jul 15, 2023

Rushford Manufacturing’s role in Minnesota State College Southeast National Competition Win

August 7, 2023 by Wanda Hanson Leave a Comment

Four CNC machinist students made their way from underdog to winners at the recent Project MFG Advanced Manufacturing Competition. The National Championship was held at the Gene Haas Foundation Center in Greenville, S. C.; the three-day competition was videotaped as season 3 of Clash of Trades.

After a grueling 20 hours, the team of Ellery Kiesel of Winona, Austyn Warren of Dakota, Ivey Wadman Vehrenkamp of Ettrick, and Bradley Bishop of Ettrick was declared the winner of the competition. The four took home the $100,000 prize money with half of it going to the college and the other half split between the team members. The college will use its share of the prize money to purchase a 5 axis CNC machine.

Why was the team considered the underdogs in the competition? Minnesota State College Southeast has no five axis CNC machines on site and owns no Haas equipment; they had never been to a national competition and didn’t know what to expect. They knew they needed someone with TIG (tungsten inert gas) welding; since CNC machinist student Ellery Kiesel had some experience in TIG, he was appointed the team welder.

Instructor Rick Hengel knew that Rushford Manufacturing had some five axis CNCs on site and contacted Rushford Manufacturing’s Mike Messenger to ask for help in training the team. CNC (computer numerical control) machines are programmed to remove layers of materials from blanks to create custom designed parts.

According to Messenger, the CNC is the most efficient way to make a part. RM has three 5 axis CNCs with a total of nine CNCs. RM has been in business since 1991 when Ken Connaughty started in farm repairs. The business now consists of two separate businesses; Messenger is in charge of Rushford Manufacturing and Ken Connaughty is in charge of the farm repairs. RM has a total of 24 employees including part-time employees and Ken and Mike; RM is not a retail facility. It does business with large manufacturing companies.

The students traveled to Rushford to practice on the five axis CNC. The college’s version of the software program to run the CNC machines wasn’t communicating with the Rushford Manufacturing CNC machine’s “post” so the students had to quickly get up to speed on the professional version of software used by RM. Employees Jake Sullivan, William Theede, and Hunter Peterson trained the team. They were totally impressed by the team, calling them “sponges”; the team took full advantage of their time at RM. Mike Messenger commented, “No way I could have done this at their age!” He enthused that he could tell the instructors truly cared about the students and that the students didn’t want to let their team down.

Once the team arrived at the competition, they learned their assignment was to fabricate a complete hip replacement as well as a stainless steel autoclave for sterilizing surgical equipment. To fabricate the hip replacement, the teams had access to a CNC lathe to make the cylindrical parts and a five axis CNC mill to create complex parts and shapes.

Welding stainless steel is very difficult; Kiesel commented on his product, “It functions, works, it’s not horrible.” He felt he’d done a good job since he went into the project in the dark with little experience in welding stainless steel.

On the second day of competition, they were thrown a twist; they needed to design a piece of test equipment to test the strength of the hip, simulating a jump from a pickup truck. This test equipment had to be finished by 10 a.m. the following day. Welders were teamed up with welders from competing teams and were expected to work cooperatively. Both teams were awarded points earned on the project.

Shanen Aranmór, founder of Girls Who Weld and a former EMT, judged the competition. Calling it “really applicable,” Aranmór noted that any of the competitors could go on to work in manufacturing medical equipment; she called the autoclave welding project the most elaborate Clash of Trades project.

Adele Ratcliff of the Department of Defense, which cosponsored the event, was also a judge. She commented, “This was designed to be more realistic – manufacturing is for everyone!” Ratcliff continued, “America’s hope is strong in you!”

The teams were scored on programming, machining, welding, assembly, testing, and costs.

When asked if RM plans on continuing to collaborate with Minnesota State College Southeast, Messenger shared that Ken Connaughty is on the welding committee at the college, and both Ken and Mike sit on the CNC committee. The college provides a lot of welding interns to the businesses from instructor Casey Mann’s program.

According to Messenger, the sky’s the limit for students considering the field. He pointed out, “Education is the key to success. You don’t have to be an “A” student to be successful! If you have the drive and willingness to learn, you’ll be successful!”

Messenger quoted the R-P school motto, “Be your best!” as well as “Be a good human being!” He noted that such a work ethic was essential for success. According to Messenger, R-P has a nice shop and welding program. RM provides scrap metal to area schools for their welding programs.

Messenger pointed out that the winning team came from small, local towns and emphasized that it’s possible for Fillmore County students to also be successful in the field!

The YouTube video of the competition can be found by searching for Clash of Trades Season 3 Project MFG.

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