SKF repaints picture of manufacturing at MFG Day
By Emily McFarlan Miller firstname.lastname@example.org @emmillerwrites October 6, 2013 6:58PM
Einstein Academy student Traven Vaulato, takes a close look at a part used on an Apache Helicopter, Friday, at SKF USA in Elgin. The students were touring the facility as a Manufacturing Day event. Dave Shields/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 8, 2013 6:11AM
ELGIN — The seal test lab at SKF in Elgin is a large white room that looks more like the “Wonkavision” laboratory in the Gene Wilder “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” than the black-and-white photos of assembly lines in textbooks.
Its whirring machines all send data to one computer in the room, etching lines on a graph on its screen in real time.
The aerospace seals pressed in one of two plants in the facility end up in every kind of aircraft, from a tiny Cessna to a fighter jet to a commercial airplane.
And its service facility area now mostly is used for filming how-to YouTube videos.
“I always thought engineering looked like this — but not so high-tech,” said Bodie Burns, 14, of Elgin.
Burns, a ninth-grader at Einstein Academy, was one of more than 50 people who toured SKF as part of the company’s MFG (Manufacturing) Day celebration Friday at its automotive division and seals headquarters at 890 and 900 N. State St. That included representatives from schools like Dundee-Crown High School, Einstein Academy, Elgin Community College and Northern Illinois University, as well as area companies and community organizations.
That comes as Gail Borden Public Library in downtown Elgin wrapped up its “Manufacture Your Future” exhibit this weekend, featuring displays from area manufacturers. Bob Malm, director of the Elgin Development Group, said the organization hadn’t realized the exhibit would coincide with MFG Day when it planned the exhibit.
“We really wanted to celebrate what’s made in our area and also the career possibilities that are out there,” Malm said.
This is the first year SKF has participated in MFG Day, an event organized by industry sponsors and co-producers to give manufacturers an opportunity to open their doors and show what manufacturing is — and what it isn’t.
It’s not the picture students often are presented with in textbooks of Henry Ford and his Model T or of “another dirty factory,” according to Jeff George, vice president and general manager of SKF Aerospace Sealing Solutions.
“We want to repaint the picture of what manufacturing is,” George said.
SKF is a leading global supplier of bearings, seals, mechatronics and lubrication systems, according to the company.
Its services also include technical support, maintenance and reliability services, engineering consulting and training.
“Pretty much anything that rolls, spins or has to do with transportation” has parts manufactured by SKF, George said.
Its facility in Elgin, which employs 350 people, manufactures all the rubber used in North America in that process — 3 to 6 million pounds of rubber every year, he said. And the seal test room is the largest in North America.
Many of the machines designed by SKF in that room now are industry standards, he said.
On a tour of the facility Friday, John Crawford shared his experiences working for the company for the past two decades, now as a senior application engineer. Crawford has helped design six-foot-tall bearings for the 550-foot-tall High Roller observation wheel in Las Vegas and parts for high-speed rail, he said.
“They’ve never gone that fast before, so new things need to be developed,” he said.
‘As close as it gets’
Gail Blanchard, a school counselor at Dundee-Crown High School in Carpentersville, said the MFG Day event at SKF was important because “we want kids to have a better perception of what modern manufacturing looks like.”
That includes on-the-job training students can start straight out of high school, as well as jobs that require a PhD, added Ann DiCosola, also a school counselor at Dundee-Crown. The high school sent its entire counseling staff to the event, DiCosola said, because of the interest in the field from students and the related programs available at Elgin Community College.
Renae Schlossman brought all eight of her students in grades nine to 11 from Einstein Academy in Elgin on Friday because so many are interested in engineering, she said.
Bodie and several friends agreed the tour had confirmed their interest in the field.
They’d been intrigued to hear where all the rubber SKF produces comes from and to see the bearings manufactured by the company that fit between the rotor and blade of a helicopter, they said.
“Even what’s in the textbook — this is as close at it gets,” Schlossman said.