Beyond the Bucky Wagon

Posted on 27. Sep, 2013 by in Academic Departments, Alumni, Annual Report, Economic Impact, Features, Issues, Mechanical Engineering, Students

Pierce seeks to strengthen ties with engineering students

Pierce fire truck

Pierce fire truck. Image courtesy: Pierce Manufacturing.

Pierce Manufacturing wants College of Engineering students to know it as more than just the name on the front of the iconic UW-Madison Bucky Wagon.

Mechanical Engineering Faculty Associate Glenn Bower began a partnership with the Appleton, Wisconsin-based fire-truck company in 2009 when he brought the company into his effort to restore the badly deteriorated Bucky Wagon—originally a 1932 fire engine.

Now, Pierce’s parent company, Oshkosh Corporation, wants to recruit more UW-Madison engineering students to improve the fire trucks and occupational vehicles of the future. “We’re only 90 miles away, and the university doesn’t really know who Oshkosh Corporation is,” says Tom Quigley (BSME ’94), vice president of engineering for the company’s fire and emergency division.

Quigley hopes to convince more Badgers to work at Pierce and live in Wisconsin for the long haul, not just as a stepping stone. He’d also like to partner with engineering students who can provide a fresh perspective on the design of Pierce products.

Pierce and Bower teamed up in 2012 to present some of Bower’s students with a challenging senior design project for a Pierce aerial ladder fire truck. And while Pierce hasn’t been able to use the students’ proposal, their work may assist Pierce engineers in future efforts at product development. Quigley now hopes to share design projects with Bower and his students every year.

The students had a counterintuitive advantage in the design process, says Kathryn Clouse, the senior design engineer at Pierce who worked most directly with them. Because they didn’t have a sense of “what the industry is expecting to see,” they were able to be bolder with their ideas. “They said, ‘This isn’t necessary structurally. Can we take it out?’” Clouse says. “Ultimately, we wound up having them leave some things in, but those are the types of ideas that we’re looking for, and that’s something in our back pocket for the future.”

The students, for their part, got a sense of what it’s like to do an engineering project in the workplace, and were forced to revisit some fundamentals. “Hand calculations were necessary for this project,” Clouse says. “They were trying to use a computer model to analyze the structure before they really understood the structure. That’s when I said, ‘Wait, back up.’”

Bower reinforced that workplace experience by taking the students up to Appleton over their Christmas break. “They gave a presentation to about 15 of the engineers at Pierce, and then the engineers rifled questions at them,” he says.

Ultimately, the consensus among Pierce engineers was that UW-Madison students are more than capable of delivering strong results and a highly professional project-update presentation. “We were trying to verify that, by partnering with the university, we would be able to get quality work,” Clouse says. “The team certainly exceeded my expectations for the project.”

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