Foundry grows skilled labor force
Engineering among fastest growing careers
The brakes that stop your car, the drive train in a semi truck, even the fire hydrant on the street are there thanks to engineers from Waupaca Foundry.
The foundry employs environmental, process, mechanical, electrical and industrial engineers throughout its production processes to design and cast iron parts that are in the 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 No. 1 asset is our employees and we’ll continue to invest in their training and development,” he said.
National Engineers Week, slated for 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 Waupaca,” said Kirk Kallio, director of human resources for Waupaca Foundry. “These towns are home to our best talent and are ground zero for the next industrial revolution. Future innovation is all about robotics and our team members are designing customized automation processes at every plant.”
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 help create the company’s gray, ductile, austempered ductile, and compacted graphite iron castings.
“Robotics and technology expansion are bundled into other equipment, and may be performing 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.”
Engineers play a critical role at Waupaca Foundry, working collaboratively across all departments to integrate the overall process. Robotics are transferring the repetitive nature of some jobs in the foundry—By relying on robots to do the heavy lifting or repetitive tasks, jobs are evolving.
“We are changing the nature of work in the foundry,” Osborn said. “We are creating more highly skilled jobs and the opportunities for mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, and process engineers are growing.”
Environmental engineers play a critical role at all Waupaca Foundry locations both to reduce energy use and to increase pollution controls.
In 2020, Waupaca Foundry was the recipient of the 2020 Green Foundry Sustainability Award presented by the America Foundry Society (AFS).
The foundry was honored for leadership in integrating sustainable business practices throughout its manufacturing operations.
Innovations in waste heat recovery, humidity reduction, converting to LED lighting all contributed to and overall energy management plan. 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.
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,” Nikkolai said.
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 spent $1.9 million annually in tuition reimbursement and maintains an internship program for college and high school students.
Scott Aasen will graduate with a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Wisconsin—Platteville in fall of 2021, but has been summer help and an intern at Waupaca Foundry since 2017. During his internship, he has redesigned industrial interior spaces to increase safety in the workplace.
“It’s definitely neat to go out and see what you’re working on and how it benefits the people using it.” Aasen said. “You can see how everything flows together versus just learning about it in school.”
Individuals interested in engineering careers at Waupaca Foundry should visit jobs.waupacafoundry.com.