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Student team solves manufacturing problem for Rath

Time and money are the two most precious currencies of almost every business. Earlier this year, four undergraduates from the College of Engineering helped a Janesville, Wis., company save more of each.

It all began late last year when Rath Manufacturing, which produces seamless stainless steel pipe and tubing, was looking for a way to improve a specific process involved in tube-making. Having read of a partnership between a manufacturer and UW-Platteville students, Rath project technician Todd Lee contacted UW-Madison to see if he could forge a similar alliance.

Rath Building

Rath Manufacturing's facility in Janesville, Wisconsin. (large image)

As it turns out, electrical and computer engineering Professor John H. Booske had just what Lee needed -- four students who could serve as a consulting team. Early in January, seniors Geof Noakes, Ryan Perkofski, Steve Hipp and Jim Moeller were hired by Rath to develop a solution to the problem. (Due to proprietary concerns, specifics of the project cannot be detailed in this article.)

The team met with Booske over Christmas break and then made a trip to the plant, where they took measurements and made drawings of what they saw. "We got a feel for what they needed ahead of time," said Noakes.

Throughout the three months that followed, the four consultants -- who remained full-time students -- devoted about 150 hours each to research and development of a prototype. Most of the work was done on campus, where the students had access to lab space and the machine shop.

"It was stressful right before [Rath] viewed the prototype," recalls Noakes. "But we were confident it would work, and it went very well."

Project technician Lee couldn't agree more. He says the prototype proved successful in test runs and now the company is developing a more robust version for full-time use. "They provided us with the conceptual answers. They did all the hard work."

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