Nick Willenbring is studying mechanical engineering at the University of Minnesota -Duluth. When he went looking for an internship on the SciTech job board last year, he was pleasantly surprised to find one in the agriculture industry.

“I didn’t realize how much tech goes into ag,” Willenbring said. “I knew the industry was advanced but I didn’t realize just how big it could be.”

Fortunately for Willenbring, the team at Grain Handler USA (GH) was more than happy to show him. For 33 years, this Lakeville-based, family-run business has manufactured high-quality, economic farm equipment. Their specialty lies in grain dryers.

“One of the areas where we needed to make headway was in our technical drawings, the CAD drawings and SolidWorks software that we use to draw parts and the assembly of their components,” said Lori Todd, Grain Handler’s VP of Business Operations. “We had some catching-up to do there. So, I was looking for an intern that had that experience. Sometimes people who are bent toward a technical aspect aren’t as interested in working out in the field. One of the comments Nick made [in his interview] is that he liked to work outside and work with the product. I liked that and I needed that combination and personality.”

Trial, Error and Learning
Despite this being his first internship, GH waisted no time getting Willenbring involved. “They threw me in right away,” he recalled jovially.

His projects included developing procedures to help increase manufacturing efficiency, forming parts in SolidWorks and assisting with their production. One of his biggest tasks was designing and fabricating a fan grate. It took a lot of trial and error, but each mistake was approached as an opportunity to study what went wrong and how to make it better.

“We went through three versions of the grate before we got it to work,” said Willenbring. “Failure is definitely something that happens, but it’s a learning experience too, and I learned a lot. I learned that I want to be ‘in the field’ and not behind a desk. I want to go out there, put stuff together, rivet stuff, crank wrenches, get dirty, that’s just how I am […] This internship was great. Building parts and putting them together, it’s definitely something I want to do in the future.”

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