Building Partnerships One Section at a Time


A chance meeting of two engineers on one campus led to the building of another.

Ian Salo, mechatronic instructional manager at Kalamazoo Valley’s Groves Center, met Patrick McEvoy, director/team leader, engineering and maintenance at Pfizer, when McEvoy’s son and daughter were part of the Mattawan WiredCats FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Team. The high school team spent nearly seven months at the Groves Center preparing for the FIRST Robotics Competition, a global competition that combines the excitement of a varsity sport with hands-on training in science and technology. Salo and McEvoy served as mentors to the group.

While touring the 70,000-square-foot Groves Center, the team saw a variety of state-of-the art machines and technology, including a new three-dimensional printer that prints in 12 different materials. The printer was funded through a $4.8 million Community College Skilled Trades Equipment Program (CCSTEP) grant. CCSTEP funding is meant to enable community colleges to purchase equipment to enhance educational programs in high-wage, high-skill and high-demand occupations. Kalamazoo Valley was one of 18 community colleges in the country to receive a CCSTEP grant. McEvoy, who works at Pfizer’s 1,300-acre Global Supply facility in Portage, was looking for a way to envision expansion and renovation plans for the site’s main drug product operations building which has more than one million square-feet of floor space on its ground floor.

“It’s difficult for people to visualize expansion plans at a facility this large,” McEvoy said. “We knew we needed something beyond our two-dimensional plans to visualize, plan and communicate a capital plan.”

The college’s new 3D printer was the solution.

Salo, who had only just begun working with the $173,850 printer, saw this as a great opportunity to complete hands-on training and to see what specifically the printer was capable of building. He spent roughly four months working with a team at Pfizer to turn 360,000 pages of 2D drawings into a three-dimensional model of their more than one million square-foot main level.

“It was a tremendous learning experience,” said Salo. “Turning a drawing into an actual facility that was so complex in scale and detail taught us so much about the capabilities of the printer.”

The printer, Salo said, ran for more than 1,300 hours - building 114 prints that represent the building, 50 racks with 380 lids. Groves staff members Ben Ash and Josh O’Keefe assisted with the project by starting prints later in the evening and on weekends. The pieces were taken to Pfizer in batches and eventually assembled and put on display.

“I can’t say enough about the significant effort, talent and skill that went into this project,” McEvoy said. “We weren’t exactly sure what we were asking of Ian and his team but it ended up being quite an accomplishment and exactly what we needed. It was a wonderful learning experience for everyone involved. To me, the 3D model was an exciting and practical way to showcase our plans for the future while developing a close working relationship with Kalamazoo Valley utilizing their extensive capabilities.”

Craig Jbara, vice president of strategic business and community development for Kalamazoo Valley Community College, agreed.

“Part of the mission of our organization is to support business and economic development in the community,” he said. “This collaboration helped Pfizer assess the potential for 3D printing while giving us the opportunity to train our staff and develop some real data on machine usage, costs and overall metrics. The outcome was tremendous.”

This article was posted on 07/05/2018.