WAUPACA, Wis.—The drivetrain that propels your car, the braking system that stops a semi truck on the road, even the fire hydrant on your street are there thanks to operators and engineers at Waupaca Foundry. The foundry employs environmental, process, mechanical, electrical, and industrial engineers throughout its manufacturing operations that churn out iron castings found in products we use every day.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Mechanical and industrial engineers are second and third in projected job growth among engineers (behind civil engineers). Together, these two occupations will be among the fastest growing occupations in manufacturing.
Waupaca Foundry employs 138 engineers at six foundries and two machining facilities nationwide, and the company continues to forecast strong demand for advanced technical skills. Careers in the engineering field touch every facet of manufacturing and can pay upwards of $65,000 per year starting salaries depending on function and location.
“Our manufacturing process is always evolving and we constantly reinvest in technology and automation to run cleaner, safer and more efficient plants,” said Waupaca Foundry CEO Mike Nikolai. “However, our number one asset is our employees and we’ll continue to invest in their training and development,” he said.
National Engineers Week (Feb. 21—27) recognizes the work of engineers and the next generation of innovation in manufacturing. At Waupaca Foundry, that future is called “Foundry 4.0” which is defined as creating an interconnected workspace where equipment, machines, and humans are connected by technology and making decisions based on data. The innovation in the workspace is a direct result of engineers who have created the processes and robotics to cast and machine metal down to microscopic specifications.
“Most of our foundries are located in smaller communities like Marinette,” said Kirk Kallio, director of human resources for Waupaca Foundry. “Throughout our history we have recognized that these small communities have produced the work ethic that will continue to lead the company in future years. Robotics coupled with the innovation of our employees, are designing automated processes within all of our facilities.”
Waupaca Foundry has invested $53 million from fiscal 2019 through fiscal 2021 to upgrade robotics systems in all of its foundries. Across all facilities, approximately 135 robots are used to cast and machine gray and high-strength ductile iron components.
“Robotics and technology expansion are bundled into other equipment and perform secondary tasks and eliminating waste in the process,” said Jarrod Osborn, vice president of engineering. “Integrating this level of automation into each plant is the responsibility of our technical teams and engineering staff.”
Rob Jezwinski is the engineering manager at Waupaca Foundry’s Marinette plant. He started as summer help, then as an intern while completing his degree at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. Applying his field to real life production requires him to be knowledgeable in all aspects of manufacturing.
“The whole foundry process is complex,” Jezwinski said. “One piece of machinery relies on another piece and it’s challenging to ensure all departments are in agreement on the expected outcome. I come to work each day and it’s always something different, challenging and exciting.”
Environmental engineers also play a critical role at all Waupaca Foundry locations both to reduce energy and water use and to increase air quality controls and sand reuse. In 2020, Waupaca Foundry was the recipient of the 2020 Better Project award from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Plants program for innovations at the plant in Tell City, Indiana. The plant designed and installed a system to remove humidity from the air around the plant’s cupola, the furnace used to melt metal. Plant engineers installed an air-drying system that removes water vapor from ambient air prior to preheating in the foundry’s melt tower. Removing humidity from the air stabilizes operations throughout the year and reduces energy consumption.
According Nikolai, energy conservation is a key strategy at all plants. “Our commitment to environmental responsibility moves beyond regulatory compliance to ensure our long-term sustainability. Initiatives like these create value that benefits our customers, shareholders, employees, suppliers and the public,” he said.
Environmental engineers have had a role in creating systems that recycle water, heat, the sand used in casting metal parts, and implementing air pollution controls.
The company invests in its employees and operates a tuition reimbursement program for any technical training and advanced degrees that pertain to the business. On average, in the past five years, Waupaca Foundry has invested $1.9 million annually in tuition reimbursement and maintains an internship program for college and high school students.
Individuals interested in engineering careers at Waupaca Foundry should visit jobs.waupacafoundry.com.