Monday, July 21, 2014

Stihl summer camp gives teens cutting-edge training

Summer Sparrow has a steady hand. Her teammates noticed, and so did a Stihl vice president. It helped her master a new skill: soldering.

"I was really excited to learn how to do it," said Summer, 14. "When I tried it, I found out I was pretty good at it."  She stripped wires and soldered them to pins. Then she connected them to a circuit board on the way to creating a wireless speaker.

This is a summer camp of a different kind.

Nearly 40 area high school students attending this fourth annual Stihl Manufacturing Technology Summer Camp have a job to fulfill on an assembly line this week.  Teams will manufacture the speakers out of an array of parts.  Members of the team that creates the best process win $1,000 scholarships to study STEM - science, technology, engineering and math - subjects after high school.

Stihl created the camp to give teens a creative experience in a manufacturing setting, said Christian Koestler, vice president of operations. The German company produces chain saws and other outdoor power tools at its U.S. headquarters off Lynnhaven Parkway.  The company chose campers through written essays and classroom grades.  Each team started the four-day camp with $50,000 in play money.

High school seniors on a "supplier" team hustled in the back corner of the room to assemble kits including batteries and audio receivers for the teams producing the speakers. The fuel tank of Stihl's backpack blowers serves as the container for the components. Orange speaker grills and piston-shaped volume knobs are created on-site with a 3-D printer.

The teens worked together at several stations Thursday. While one used a mill to bore holes in the fuel tank, two others teamed up to solder wires. A timer on one of their phones kept them on task.
"It's interesting to me to make something in a certain amount of time," said Murell Weimar, 17.

It's not just about speed. Teams must budget their money. They have the opportunity to earn more throughout the camp and purchase additional parts. Soldering is the bottleneck of the assembly line because it takes time, but a pre-soldered amp costs 10,000 "dollars."

They will test their skills by building three wireless speakers before Saturday's two-hour competition to see who can produce the most with the best quality in a given time.  "You see the natural leaders arising and you see the worker bees," Koestler said Thursday.  "You see teams focused on the process and teams focused on the product. Those focused on the product try to make it pretty; those focused on the process are figuring out how much time they need for each step. It will show on competition day who comes out ahead."

Members of Team "Amps" smiled and nodded their heads as Smash Mouth's "All Star" blasted from one of their smartphones just before the lunch break Thursday. They had produced the first working wireless speaker in the room and all eyes were on them.

"All the students are engaged," said Andrew Jaeckle, STIHL's manager of talent acquisition.

Stacy Parker, 757-222-5125,

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