SC Student Saves College Thousands


Contact: Wendy Smith Director of Marketing and Public Information, Northern Wyoming Community College District 307-675-0412 |

Machine Tool Technology student fixes equipment for College

A rotating gear inside a decades-old industrial office shredder doesn’t look like much, and a one-inch replacement part inside that gear may look like even less.

But what a fix like this represents—hands-on student learning, frugal innovation, collaboration and breathing new life into an old technology—is immeasurable.

Together with Sheridan College Machine Tool Faculty Sara Spann and Randall Whyte, freshman Benjamin Conklin of Banner saved the college some $20,000 in office equipment costs this spring.

“The facilities team came to us with a broken part to this huge paper shredder, and said, ‘Hey, can you guys fix this?’” Spann explained. “That happens three to four times a year … People bring us stuff to fix all the time, from all departments. The science department, the welding department … People know we can make things, and sometimes we can fix things; sometimes we can’t.”

Spann teaches a course in SolidWorks programming and 3D printing, and using that technology—and Whyte’s real-world machining experience, Conklin was able to fix the college’s industrial shredder.

“So facilities brought this stripped out gear from a decades-old shredder to us, and asked if we could repair it. They don’t make this part anymore—it is obsolete. A new industrial shredder can cost up to $20,000,” Spann said.

The gear was made of melamine, a compressed paper material covered in plastic. The team decided to remove the stripped portion of the gear and replace it with a new plastic composite printout by the college’s 3D printer.

But to do that, they had to engineer just the right part. The team, led by Conklin, measured the old gear, reverse-engineered it and drew it on the computer, eventually printing an actual one-of-a-kind part.

And the part fit, fixing the shredder on the first try, and proving the team successful in a creative process that utilized their collective abilities to the college’s benefit.

“It took a while to measure, and after I figured out tooth spacing and angles of this tiny part, I drew that out in SolidWorks,” Conklin said. “But it is really cool that this could work. 3D printing for something like this is amazing. You can go from the computer to a solid object in a few hours.

“It feels great to be able to fix something,” Spann said. “For us as instructors, and even as students, this is all done outside of normal classwork. This is extra time for the instructors to sit down and brainstorm, and it is extra time for the student. This is a student who is going above and beyond.”

Whyte and Spann saw a skill in Conklin, and that is why they asked him to participate. “We sat down with Ben and brainstormed—how can we fix this thing,” Spann said.

Whyte said he is always trying to challenge his students.

“I might say, ‘Here is a real-world problem, and how do we fix it?’ I might know the answer and I may feed it to them little bit by little bit, or I might not even know the answer,” he said. “When we came together with this, we didn’t know if it was going to work. The shredder was already broken, so there wasn’t much to lose, but there was a lot to gain.”

Instruction at the Tech Center focuses on hands-on skills, because Sheridan College students will use the same technology when they enter the workforce, Spann said.

When his students do find a career, Whyte said he wants them to be ready to lead.

“There are a good many students that go through our program that go on to be engineers, and we really promote that,” Whyte said. “We want them to look back and see that we were pushing them further and further.”