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New York Air Brake celebrates engineers week with local students


South Jefferson Central School students covered their ears against two short blasts of the three-bell train horn while the sound of a train chugging up a track filled the air. When they opened their eyes they were not in a train yard at all, but in the bright and sterile testing room at New York Air Brake on their visit for Engineers Week.

“It sounded like a train because we were releasing air of the brakes in the American Association Railroad room,” said Shane Kemper, principal systems and safety engineer at the company.

In the testing rooms, with no train in sight, machines simulated the sounds and conditions the brakes might face. Students saw an electrodynamic shaker system that can simulate 20 years worth of travel in just a few hours, environmental chambers where parts are put into severe hot and cold conditions and more to make sure the parts produced can meet customer demands.

Sackets Harbor Central student Sarah K. Pacilio said the testing room was the most fun part of her day.

“The vibration table was cool,” she said. “I came because I might want to go into engineering.”

In celebration of Engineers Week last week, New York Air Brake invited students from area schools with an interest in engineering to the company’s Watertown facility with junior high school students visiting on Thursday and high school students on Friday. More than 100 students per day came to the factory from schools including Sackets Harbor, Indian River, General Brown, Watertown, South Jefferson and Immaculate Heart Central School. The students participated in tours, demonstrations and hands-on activities.

The company’s engineers and other employees were invited to host workshops on design, data collection and production, which incorporated elements of what the students are learning in science, technology, engineering and math courses.

John “Huck” A. Finn, systems verification test manager, said there are many job opportunities in the engineering field and math and science are important building blocks.

“In engineering, design is really important. You must do safety checks,” Mr. Finn said. “Do it again and again until you’re confident.”

In the plant’s original power house, Mr. Finn and software engineer Justin L. Terpstra hosted a design demonstration. Students were given uncooked pasta noodles, string, 20 address labels and a marshmallow. They were told to try to build the tallest tower using only those materials with the marshmallow at the top.

“The idea is that you want to plan this out and there are always going to be team members who disagree, but you have to work together,” Mr. Finn said.

Approximately 70 of the company’s 150 engineers work in the Watertown facility, performing design, quality, manufacturing and sales jobs to support the production of electromechanical braking systems sold worldwide.

“It’s always hard to fill an engineering position, and Air Brake is one of the few places as an engineer where you can work and stay local,” Mr. Kemper said. “We try to keep it local. We have a lot of adults who work here that grew up here.”

Steven R. Newton, a former South Jefferson Central School and Jefferson Community College graduate, told a group of students he attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology, before returning to work at the company as a foundation team leader.

Mr. Newton showed students “pixels to parts” whereby he demonstrated to the students how to create an engineering assembly model in computer-aided drafting, an engineering software tool, and then see how that assembly model looks in the resulting product. Later on their tour, students got to see a computer-animated manufacturing machine that creates parts designed through CAD.

New York Air Brake supports Engineers Week, established in 1951, which celebrates the positive contributions engineers make to society. Mr. Kemper said NYAB supports the encouragement of science, technology, engineering and mathematics educational opportunities, and the engineering open house is one of several ways the company supports local schools in developing these interests in students.

Air Brake’s commitment to the profession includes encouraging the growth of its own engineers. The company administers programs such as the engineering development program, a three-year rotational employment aimed at engineers in the early stages of their careers, and the technical skills enhancement program, an 18-month certification program featuring a partnership with Rochester Institute of Technology. NYAB also employs engineering interns, allowing students to gain real-world job experience.

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