Measuring Up

Minnesota State Mankato professors Bruce Jones and Winston Sealy (left) with Margaret Smith and Andrew Spang of S-T Industries.

S-T Industries in St. James, Minn., manufactures a variety of precision measuring tools and equipment—including micrometers, optical comparators and video inspection systems. Its customers come from a variety of industries, from medical device manufacturers to automotive, aerospace, oil, plastics and other manufacturing companies. The company, which employees about 50 people, was established in 1983 when a group of local investors purchased a portion of a company that had started in the early 1940s.

Both the president of the company, Margaret Smith, and its design engineer, Andrew Spang, are alumni of Minnesota State Mankato. Spang graduated in 2011 and went to work for S-T Industries in 2012. In February 2016, he and Smith returned to campus with a significant gift for the Automotive and Manufacturing Engineering Technology department.

S-T Industries gave the department a video inspection system that quickly enhanced the University’s offerings in metrology—the scientifc study of measurement.

Bruce Jones, professor and chair of the department, said the gift is significant. In most manufacturing scenarios, the manufacturer is given written material—drawings—of the piece to be manufactured, with all of the precise measurements the manufacturer must meet. The video inspection system from S-T Industries helps ensure that those requirements are met.

“In a nutshell, it’s a camera that will take a picture of the image so with that you can magnify it multiple times,” Jones explains. “But in addition to that, what the software does is allows it to look at it and actually plug measurements on it, so it’s scale. It’s a visual type of measurement rather than physically measuring.”

Jones said about 32 students study metrology. “All 32 of those people get experience with that machine,” he says. “It was a huge leap as to the capability of the lab.”

Spang saw the donation as a way to enhance a new and emerging metrology curriculum as well as a way to get S-T Industries in the minds of students and future purchasers. Students, after all, remember the makers of the machines they work with in college.

“Once we graduated and started looking at equipment to purchase, of course it was those vendors we went to first,” Spang says. With that in mind, the company approached Minnesota State Mankato and professor Winston Sealy, who teaches in the department’s manufacturing area.

“We started talking with Dr. Sealy over there and he was developing a new curriculum based on metrology,” Spang says. “Metrology is what we do, the equipment we do. And the University was lacking in some of that equipment.”

Smith, a 1981 graduate in accounting, said the relationship with the University began when Spang joined S-T. “Prior to having him join us we really didn’t know much about the program or what was helpful there,” she says.

Today the firm has hired a few employees and interns from Minnesota State Mankato and is consistently impressed.

“They have a lot of hands-on experience,” Spang says. “The people who come out of that program are very flexible and have the theory of things down, and that’s been very helpful to us.”

The relationship between S-T and Minnesota State Mankato is ongoing and mutually beneficial.

“Since Andy joined us we have hired a couple more people out of the same program,” Smith says. “And that’s been very positive for us as well. With this donation, we’re giving the kids experience with equipment they’re going to use when they get out on the job.”  —Joe Tougas