Burrell students get high-tech homework assignment from electronics maker

By Mary Ann Thomas, Trib Live

Talk about your homework.

Burrell High School students took home a robotic arm, a 3D printer and a heavy assignment from a visit to a Harrison circuit board producer.

Tuesday’s visit to EPD Electronics by 14 Burrell students wasn’t your typical field trip and, according to school administrators and students, that’s a good thing.

EPD manufactures circuit boards for a variety of clients, including Carnegie Mellon University, for robotic applications. On Tuesday, some of those boards were slated for a 3D scanner that makes foot orthotics and a system that prevents Legionnaire’s Disease.

The visit was arranged by Catalyst Connection, a nonprofit economic development group that works with small manufacturers, which it sometimes pairs with visits and projects from school districts.

Chance Turner, EPD’s quality manager, gave a tour of the circuit manufacturing site, letting the students learn not just the manufacturing process but the roles of accounting and other departments.

Elisabeth Gural, 16, a sophomore from Lower Burrell, said “it’s interesting going through each step, and that’s the only way to know each step of the process.”

Then the moment they were waiting for: A look at EPD’s 3D printer and robotic arm, which the company is leaving in the hands of the students. They are assigned to complete the assembly of the 3D printer and to come up with promotional uses for the equipment.

“This is what they need to be doing — real world problem solving,” said Burrell Superintendent Shannon Wagner.

And what a problem it is.

After the students complete the assembly, a task in itself, they will have to come up with unique marketing ideas for the 3D printer, such as making things like business card holders or promotional items for clients visiting EPD’s office.

“I’m hoping the students have a more creative approach,” Turner said.

“They aren’t hindered by a boss that won’t like it or concern about how much money it will cost to make it,” he said.

Riley Callender, 16, a junior from Lower Burrell, said the project is going to be hard.

“This is a different challenge,” she said. “It’s hands-on. We will have to come together as a team to figure it out.”

Students will have about six weeks to work on the project, which is not affiliated with any particular class. Students are involved for the experience, not a grade.

Whatever use they come up with for the 3D printer and robotic arm, EPD plans to showcase the equipment at work in their lobby when it’s complete.

Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary at 724-226-4691,mthomas@tribweb.com or via Twitter