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Culture - Feb 27, 2023

National Engineers Week: Steve Nygaard

Ally Melby | Waupaca Foundry

Steve Nygaard, a tooling manager at Waupaca Foundry Plant 2/3 in Waupaca, Wisconsin, chose a career path in manufacturing for a hands-on engineering experience.

Steve Nygaard, Waupaca Foundry Plant 2/3
tooling manager 

Nygaard attended the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. He initially planned to major in mechanical engineering, Nygaard did not like the class structure or that it wasn’t kinesthetic-tactile learning as he expected. Through word-of-mouth, he discovered the industrial technology management major for those seeking hands-on careers in manufacturing. The program combined all of Nygaard’s interests: Engineering, technical and machining skills, as well as management experience.

He decided to change his major to industrial technology management with an emphasis on manufacturing technology management and minors in drafting and product development technology, as well as metals processing technology. The program was lab-focused with emphases on how to make things, how things are made, and the processes and technology behind them.

In October 2013, Nygaard attended a conference by the Foundry Educational Foundation (FEF) where various FEF-affiliated schools and professors bring students to discover industry career options. There, he met Waupaca Foundry, and upon graduation, Nygaard was hired in June 2014.

Nygaard started his Waupaca Foundry career in the tooling department. He was responsible for making the tooling that is used to produce the molds into which molten metal is poured to create the cast part. In 2016, Nygaard moved to plant engineering where he was tasked with continuous improvement projects, such as machine upgrades and replacements and capital investment projects. In 2019, Nygaard returned to the tooling department in a management position.
“I’ve liked all the jobs I've had here,” Nygaard says. “Different types of engineering challenges, and with those came a lot of different experiences. I've learned a lot.”

For Nygaard, engineering is taking a problem someone is having and solving it to improve their workday. Moving toward automation has become a core solution for his department.

A favorite project of Nygaard’s at Waupaca Foundry is the 2019 CNC Grinding for the Plant 2 millroom. Waupaca Foundry engineers were tasked with how to make the job of griding castings less strenuous and how to improve the overall worker experience.

When in plant engineering, Nygaard was responsible for specifying equipment. When he moved to tooling engineering, his responsibility shifted to lead the design, build, and maintenance of fixtures to utilize CNC grinding machines and run at full capacity.

As a result, the project introduced automation to the department with Barinder automated grinding machines. Automation, like the Barinder machines, has helped foundries evolve from manual material handling processes to robotic grinding. This changes the nature of casting cleaning and finishing work dramatically by improving the working environment and the product quality. Jobs in the millroom are now skilled, and operators run and maintain the machines. In 2023, the Plant 2 millroom reached its goal for utilization, further reducing the number of team members who have to manually grind and finish gray iron castings by hand.

“[The project] was about the people. How do we keep them here, how do we keep them happy, how do we keep them safe?” Nygaard says. “It was a necessary change that we had to make to keep up with the labor market in our area, and then the benefit is that … for those people who work in that department, it makes their workday easier.”

Engineers at Waupaca Foundry are essential to improving operations, plant resiliency and employee safety. According to Nygaard, what makes a good engineer is keeping an open mind and always having the determination to create something better.

“It's the mindset and desire to try to find problems, solve them and help where you can. It's not always a straightforward answer. It's not always a simple problem to solve, because otherwise, somebody would have already done it.”

The theme of this year’s National Engineers Week is ‘Creating the Future.’ Today’s engineers play a vital role in innovating solutions that impact our everyday lives. At Waupaca Foundry, engineers are central to continuous improvement and innovation. We are proud to be the employer of 115 engineers in our electrical, mechanical, industrial, process, quality, environmental and tooling departments.

Cast your own future as an engineer at Waupaca Foundry: https://waupacafoundry.com/Careers
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