Minnesota State College Southeast Dean of Trade and Technology Travis Thul addresses a crowd during the grand opening of the college’s new CNC Precision Machine Tool Laboratory.
by NATHANIEL NELSON
The sound of a steel mill echoed through Minnesota State College Southeast (MSC Southeast) on Monday, one of the college’s newest pieces of state-of-the-art machinery. The machine is part of the new CNC Precision Machine Tool Laboratory, which was shown off in a grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony on Monday afternoon.
The project, which has been under development for the last 18 months, is the first phase of the college’s Advance Manufacturing Infrastructure Initiative, which is a partnership between the college and local manufacturing companies.
“It’s really business and industry supporting the college,” MSC Southeast Interim President Larry Lundblad told the Post.
The upgraded facility is the result of a campaign run by Jerry and Pat Papenfuss, and involves more than a dozen local manufacturing entities, after a realization was made that the equipment at the college was no longer up to snuff.
“We were finding our equipment to be a bit dated, so we went for the upgrade,” Lundblad explained.
The new lab is made up of $600,000 in new equipment, purchased through donations by companies including Fastenal, Benchmark, Miller Ingenuity, Peerless-Chair, RTP and more, and is focused primarily on machinists –– a lesser-known field in industrial engineering.
Willie Lubahn, a trainer and recruiter at Fastenal, explained while many high schoolers in an average shop class will immediately know what a welder does, if you mention machining, it goes over their heads. The new CNC lab, he added, will allow students to get their foot in the door for a wildly expansive field.
“Everything you use on a day-to-day basis has some kind of machining in it,” Lubahn added.
Having a lab of this stature in Winona is important, Lubahn explained, particularly in getting younger students –– including those who are just starting their college career and getting out of high school –– interested in a mechanical career.
“Winona is a mecca for industrial engineering and manufacturing,” Lubahn explained, adding that the only similar labs are in Mankato or Austin.
“This is to prepare students for a skilled position in the trade. It’s an opportunity to work with modern technology that is the same as they will see in the workforce,” Lubahn said.
“It’s about giving kids and students the knowledge of what machining is like,” he added. “Different companies need different skills, but if students come to us with the basics, we can take them where they need to be.”
While the new lab is the first step to a wider expansion, it is just that, Lubahn explained –– a first step. The initial budget for the lab was $1.4 million, of which $600,000 has been raised so far. The project will continue, he added, and the lab will soon be home to more and more things for students’ use.
Travis Thul, dean of trade and technology at the college, explained that the university has received $2 million in cash, grants and donations in recent years for the college’s two labs and students, and enrollment at the college is the highest it has been in eight years. The new equipment will allow students to learn the skills they need to compete in the current industrial workforce, as well as help prepare students for a variety of careers in everything from machining to engineering.
“We are doing something, I like to believe, that is right and I like to believe is impacting the community,” Thul said. “We’re building the best technical college in the region.”