High School Manufacturing Program Equips Jobs-Ready Generation

Kim Phelan

Ink scarcely dry on his manufacturing engineering technology diploma, Illinois-native Chris Gallagher went to rural Zambia with the Peace Corps in 1999, where, among many projects, he helped develop income-generating blacksmithing and ceramics programs for people living without electricity or running water. That’s where his own spark struck. Going forward, he would combine his passion for creating things––designing, machining and assembly––with his gift for teaching.
The synergy has been powerful. His work over the last four years at Granite Falls High School in Washington State is producing a small population of skilled manufacturing enthusiasts who will complete high school prepared to either pursue related higher education or walk from commencement ceremonies into well-paying, entry-level jobs. All because Gallagher, with the help of local manufacturers, foundries and the Washington Chapter of AFS, is steadfastly growing the breadth of equipment at the high school’s manufacturing lab, and hence expanding the range of practical skills teens under his tutelage are acquiring. 
The notion of job-readiness is catching on with students––about 84 currently participate in the program, and the word is spreading.
At the time Modern Casting reached out for a dialog, Gallagher, with his wife and two daughters, was experiencing a summer adventure in Kenya––facilitated by WhatsApp. The ensuing international conversation revealed how much one man can do with a bold vision, a penchant for partnership and a commitment to kids.

Question: What’s the scope of this manufacturing program––what are kids learning exactly by enrolling in your classes?

Gallagher: Students learn about safety with machines, hand tools, PPE and the environment. They use Fusion 360 for CAD and learn how to create and read fully dimensional orthographic projection drawings. They learn how to use both semi- and precision-measurement tools, and we teach them how to safely operate: a drill press, lathe, mill, stick welding, MIG welding, TIG welding, oxy-acetylene welding, CNC mill, CNC lathe, CNC router, CNC plasma cutter, manual plasma cutter, a green sand mulling machine, vertical and horizontal bandsaws, bench and hand grinders, a sand blasting cabinet, powder coating, vacuum bagging for composites, and the oven for powder coating and composite curing.
The simple definition of manufacturing is adding value to a raw product. So the processes taught include material removal, material addition, change of form, change of condition, joining, and finishing. 

Question: How is the program structured?

Gallagher: First, the program has an introductory, half-semester manufacturing class, and that’s for students who are maybe not quite sure what they want to jump into––if they want to go the path of manufacturing or maybe they want to take a look at other CTE pathways offered. 
Then there’s the Core 1, Core 2 and Core 3, and they’re kind of geared around the Core Plus curriculum, which was developed and supported through the state of Washington with local industries such as Boeing and is centered around advanced aerospace manufacturing. With the high demand for assemblers at Boeing, we teach the students about solid riveting, reading prints and using metalworking tools.  The project that is tied to learning the sheet metal skills is the aviation stool––the students each get to make one and learn about sheet metal work. During the COVID learning at home period, students were not able to use the shop to make the aviaton stools, so I adapted the project to be a hurricane lantern that students could make at home. Students were provided with a kit of tools and online instructions with videos. 

In Core 1, students build a hoist winch and the aviation stool, so they learn basic machining operations, sheet metal work, and some basics of welding. In Core 2, we build electric guitars, composite skateboards, and the hydraulic log splitter. Core 3 is learning how to operate all the CNC machines, set-up tooling, and program the machines using Fusion 360 to create the CAD/CAM programs. Students learn how to operate the CNC lathe and mills by making parts for the hoist winch, learn how to operate the CNC router by making tooling for casting snouts used on the blacksmith bellows, use the CNC plasma cutter for making molds for the plastic injection machines, and use the laser engraver by making parts for wooden clocks. The wooden clock is new this year, and they will also be making a working Stirling engine.

Question: What have you done to expand the foundry area?

Gallagher: This high school was built around 2008, and they turned the old high school into a middle school––when they were doing some renovating over there, a maintenance worker came over and said, ‘We’re cleaning out some of the equipment ... do you want to take a look and see if you’re interested in any of it?’ I went over and I said, ‘Hey, that looks like an old foundry furnace––I’d like to have the furnace.’ It needed some repairs, like a safety switch put on it. But from there, I contacted Scott Brogden on the faculty at California State University (Chico) where I had first learned about casting and later taught for a semester, and asked him if he had any extra equipment he could donate. He didn’t, but he put me in touch with the foundry society in Washington and kind of got the word out. They reached out to me and asked me what I was trying to do, told me to make a list of what I thought I needed, and they would come by. 
Folks from three foundries looked at everything we had and said I needed a mulling machine, green sand, tooling, flasks, crucibles, CO2 for making the cores, a hand-held thermocouple, safety splats with leggings, gloves, and helmets with face shields. They agreed to offer support with equipment and materials but stressed the importance of safety by reaching out to their vendor to donate all the safety PPE needed. I’m really impressed with the AFS group.

Question: And how do you roll metalcasting into the courses?

Gallagher: In Core 1, students learn how to prepare the green sand with the mulling machine, ram molds, melt the 356 aluminum, pour a casting, and perform post machining operations on the cable drum for the hoist winch. In Core 3, students use Fusion 360 to create a CAD model of a part and then perform the CAM operations using the CNC router to make the part that will be cast. They then ram the molds and cast the part and machine it.

Question: You’ve obviously got some seriously sophisticated equipment and tools ... talk about the supporting relationships you’ve cultivated and the contributions of local companies.

Gallagher: The local foundries have supported the foundry part of the program with equipment, tooling, materials, advice and training. Morel Industries Inc. (Arlington, Washington) has donated, equipment, machines, precision measuring instruments, aluminum ingots, time and training.  Romac Industries Inc. (Sultan, Washington) has donated tooling for the hoist winch cable drum; Thomas Machine and Foundry Inc. (Marysville, Washington) has donated green sand; Olson Aluminum Castings (Rockford, Illinois) has donated cable drums; and Lodi Iron Works Inc. (Lodi, California) has donated ductile iron pawls for the hoist winch projects.

Superior Sole Welding in Marysville, Washington, donates steel for the log splitters and other welding projects.  Superior Powder Coating in Arlington donates powder coating for the log splitters and powder for the powder coating station.
Covlet Machine and Design Inc. in Marysville donated an oven to be used for powder coating and composites. Everett Community College donated an industrial vacuum compressor for the composite lab. 

And AFS Washington Chapter donated a sand blasting cabinet for preparing parts for powder coating.

Question: On a public-school budget, how have you managed to purchase some of your new manufacturing equipment?

Gallagher: Last year I applied for state grant money and was awarded $48,667 to purchase equipment (CNC lathe, composite lab equipment, powder coating equipment, and plastic recycling machines). Three years ago, I applied for state grant money and was awarded $25,000 to purchase welding equipment and two Jet lathes and additional materials and tools.

Question: You’re preparing these students so they can launch into careers just at a time when manufacturing is so thirsty for skilled workers. What kind of feedback do the kids give you about this program?

Gallagher: The kids really enjoy it. They like the hands on. 

One of the things I do at the start of each of the classes is a job survey to see what they might be interested in. Maybe it’s the medical field or the food industry. But if they’re really looking for manufacturing, and they research what entry-level skills they would need for those jobs, and then they start looking at our program, they see we’re offering those skills for apprenticeship programs, engineering, or tech school, or just getting a well-paying job right out of high school. That’s my real goal—to hook these kids up with jobs right out of high school. 

Of course, you have to work around the age restrictions. By law, they can’t start letting 16-year-olds work. But as an example, Morrel Industries did find a job for a 16-year-old student––it was just basic stuff. Until he turns 18 they couldn’t have him operating certain equipment, but they did find work for him and he worked out really well for them.

Question: What keeps you so energized?

Gallagher: It’s very empowering working with students and giving them those skills so they can start to make stuff. I’m teaching them, ‘You don’t have to take it to somebody else; you can fix it yourself.’ It’s also problem solving—teaching critical thinking skills.

Question: It’s easy to see you didn’t take the program this far by dreaming small. What’s next for the Granite Falls manufacturing program? 

Gallagher: My big hope is that we can tie in with industry and create an apprenticeship in the school for students who are really serious. A lot of them don’t have a way to travel on their own, so rather than having to go to an employer and work with a journeyman, maybe the manufacturing shop could send them work to do here in the afternoon and I would check it off. Then they would go over to the company for their final evaluation. 
I’ve been talking to some folks in industry, and it sounds like it can almost be possible. And after school students could work there; in the summertime, they could work full time, and it would lead to a full-time job after they graduate.

That’s what I would really like to see. Then it would be a good program.   

Click here to view the article in the October 2021 digital edition.