ELYRIA — If you’ve ever been on the road next to a semitrailer, you could have been close to a Bendix commercial brake system or safety product.
Many are made in the company’s manufacturing facility on Cleveland Street in Elyria, where engineers research, design, test, refine and retest them long before they are installed on a truck, bus or trailer.
For a true close-up look at just where a science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, career can take them, nine freshman and sophomore students in Avon Lake High School teacher Greg Svec’s introduction to engineering class were invited Thursday to tour Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems’ Engineering Test Facility on Cleveland Street.
The course is offered through Cuyahoga Community College for post-secondary honors credits.
Of Bendix’s 300 engineers, about 180 work in the Engineering Test Facility every day. There, they put the materials in their products and the products themselves through every test imaginable, checking their capacity to handle vibration, wide variations in temperature, tensile-strength, discover their “fatigue life” and more.
Bendix supports STEM programs for young students interested in engineering and science careers, said Maria Gutierrez, director of corporate responsibility and sustainability and herself a chemical and environmental engineer. She said the company wants to promote STEM and create more relationships with area schools.
The company sends volunteers to career and science fairs in schools as well, she said, hoping to attract to the field large numbers of girls who are science- and technology-adept and into not just mechanics but “mechatronics,” which blends mechanical and electronic engineering.
“We know they’re interested” in theory and practical applications, Gutierrez said, as about 30 percent of Bendix’s engineering corps is female.
Materials engineer Kristina Carbaugh gave the students a demonstration of how raw materials like metal or polymers fared in a tensile-strength test, where they are pulled apart by a machine in her lab.
Too weak, the materials fail, putting drivers and the public in danger or rendering products useless. Too strong, costs go up and it’s like “building a titanium bridge when you don’t need it. You could just use concrete,” she told the students.
Technician Mark Matko also showed the students around a lab containing stereolithography and fused deposition modeling 3D printers. Bendix makes its own electronic circuit boards and can print signs and plaques, examples of which students got to take with them.
Vibration tables, freezers and ovens, a Faraday cage used to block electromagnetic or electrostatic interference for testing — engineering technician Scott Wagner said you don’t want a truck driver using his CB radio or cell phone and causing his brakes to fail — also were on Thursday’s tour.
Wagner said he and other engineers purposely put their products through harsh conditions to ensure they perform in the real world.
“We want to be able to break stuff” in the lab so it doesn’t happen outside it, he said.
All of this, student Nathan Spence said, was “pretty cool.”
Bendix offers a three-year Engineering Development Program for engineers in the early stages of their careers, as well as an 18-month certification Technical Skills Enhancement Program in partnership with the Rochester Institute of Technology where interns get on-the-job training.
Svec said he wanted to make the day an experience for his students.
“They see engineering in action,” he said. “We’ve all passed Bendix how many times and wondered, ‘What do they really do?’ “
“We want to get kids excited about electronics,” especially young women, Gutierrez said. “We want them to feel connected to the product and know that we keep people safe on the road.”
“It’s very cool to see that safety” and how it is reached before a product ever reaches the road, she said. “Hopefully when we show them what it’s like, that will keep them interested.”