ELKHART — Philip Brown, 18, isn’t waiting for a degree to put his engineering skills to use.
The Goshen High School senior has already developed a part to help at a local manufacturing plant and may pursue a patent on the piece.
Brown worked last summer at KMC Controls, a company that produces climate control systems for homes and businesses, in New Paris. He worked in maintenance, replacing light fixtures, cleaning and doing other odd jobs.
During one day of work, he noticed a woman massaging her hands to ease pain from arthritis and carpel tunnel disease. Brown learned from her that she and a few other workers often experienced hand pain from the tedious work they did calibrating parts called reset volume controllers.
With a lifelong interest in engineering and mechanics, Brown decided to create something that would ease those workers’ particular task.
Brown, who splits school time between Goshen High School and the Elkhart Area Career Center, began rolling around ideas in July for a design, knowing that he would have access to the Career Center’s machine trades shop in August.
Once classes began again, he talked with Michael Youngs, the machine tool technology teacher, about guiding him, but specifically asked that Youngs not tell him how to design or build the piece, but ask him questions along the way.
Before Brown finished his part, workers had to attach six tubes individually to each controller and calibrate it before detaching each tube individually. Using Brown’s piece, workers can attach and detach all the tubes at one time, cutting down work time spent on the calibration of each controller.
Ben Dorsey, vice president of marketing for KMC Controls, said that Brown’s piece saves several seconds on the calibration of each controller, and altogether about 12 minutes per employee per day, but “primarily it saves stress on workers’ hands.”
Youngs is encouraging Brown to pursue a patent on the part, but Brown said he’s grateful to KMC Controls for letting him help and that’s enough.
“I think it’s just an honor to have them use my piece,” he said.
Youngs said that students in the program are often involved in making pieces for local businesses, but usually those companies request a part. This was the first time a student brought an idea and designed and developed a piece.
“He’ll be an engineer someday; there’s no question about that,” Youngs said.
“He deserves all the recognition and accolades because he’s earned it,” Youngs said, noting that Brown put in a lot of hours on the piece.
Last Thursday, Brown, in a shirt that said “Surgeons of Steel,” was using a vertical mill to center drill spots on what will be his fourth version of the piece. Brown is providing one piece for each of the three calibration stations KMC Control’s has.
Youngs noted how Brown has continued to improve his design, putting several hours of work into each piece.
“A kid like Phil doesn’t come along very often,” Youngs said. Youngs is impressed by Brown’s passion and his excitement.
Brown said his interest in engineering and mechanics has always been a part of him.
“I always loved building, tearing stuff apart to see how it works,” he said.
Brown plans to go to college after graduating this Spring, but isn’t sure what his major will be or where he’ll attend.
“He’s a good kid to have,” Youngs said. “He’s just always on the go. The Energizer Bunny’s got nothing on him.”