UB engineering students help GMCH Lockport ‘solve problems’

UB engineering students pose with General Motors Components Holdings Lockport employees with a Corvette, which is being raffled to raise money for Hospice of Monroe, Erie and Niagara counties. From left: student Casey Shartrand, GMCH Lockport student supervisor Chuck Gullo, GMCH Lockport student supervisor John Bernardi, student Bryant Chen, UB TCIE Executive Director Timothy Leyh, GMCH Lockport student supervisor Jason Wagner, student Ashley Gurak, GMCH Lockport student supervisor Todd Hellert, student Royce Jacobs and GMCH Lockport Plant Manager Pat Curtis.

By Tracy Puckett

Release Date: June 23, 2014

“They help solve problems. Maybe that’s oversimplifying it. But you know what? That’s what we do here.”
Pat Curtis, GMCH plant manager

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Pat Curtis has three words to describe a partnership that has immersed University at Buffalo engineering students at General Motors Components Holdings (GMCH) Lockport for the past three summers: a huge success.

As plant manager of the 2.8 million-square-foot facility, he has witnessed the contributions of budding undergraduates from the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, which are made possible through the outreach and project management of UB TCIE. Some have impressed GMCH management enough to attract full-time job offers at the company’s Lockport and Rochester plants. 

“They help solve problems. Maybe that’s oversimplifying it. But you know what? That’s what we do here,” Curtis said. “We solve problems so that we can get better. And the better we get, the more competitive we are. The more competitive we are, the brighter the future is going to be for us.”

For the fourth year, GMCH Lockport leaders are welcoming a batch of summer interns. The program has featured an average of seven interns each year. They come from several engineering departments including the mechanical and aerospace engineering, electrical engineering, and industrial and systems engineering. Their assistance helps to fulfill the plant’s mission of manufacturing the world’s best thermal products.

Curtis explained that in a plant with 1,650 employees, there are never-ending opportunities for improvement. Students have the potential to boost scrap reduction,improve process streamlining and influence the implementation of cost-saving measures.  

Each student works under the guidance of one supervisor. This year, projects focuses on the areas of quality, integrated industrial resources manufacturing, and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) engineering. One student, for example, is spending time examining product defects and evaluating processes to rectify them. Journals are maintained throughout the summer and project presentations conclude the program.

Peter Eichensehr is a quality engineer at GMCH, but got his feet wet during the summer internships after his sophomore and junior years at UB. He was involved in numerous projects to improve product quality, most notably scrap reduction and new product launch support.

Eichensehr said he learned a lot, particularly soft skills, during his experience. Forming relationships with co-workers and operators on the floor, sharpening communication skills, and refining time-management capabilities helped to boost his job performance and provide qualities that he continues to build upon in his career.

“An internship anywhere is a great opportunity that can be what you make of it. If a lot of effort is put in, great things can come of it,” Eichensehr said.

Growth isn’t limited to the interns. GMCH Lockport personnel glean new insights through the partnership with UB TCIE.

“Having students here has given us an opportunity to learn about what’s going on in college,” said Greg Conley, site quality manager, as he joked about the sizeable time lapse since most supervisors were in the classroom. “It’s good to have new ideas and a fresh set of eyes.”

Different perspectives surface through daily work, as well as during final presentations when interns are asked what they would do differently if they were managing the plant. One suggestion spurred changes to a training program for hourly employees.

“I’m always amazed at how much they’ve learned in a short amount of time. The capabilitiesof these students just floors me,” Curtis said. “They’re high tech. They’re intelligent. They present themselves very well. It’s very refreshing.”

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