Posted by Joel Coffman, VP Marketing at TyRex Group
Although we at TyRex approached our summer “internship season” with a plan and a healthy dose of optimism, none of us could have predicted that by mid-August we’d have so many positive outcomes to look back on. Over the course of 12 summer weeks, TyRex hosted 27 summer interns – some were staff relatives, some were through municipal programs like Travis County’s Summer Youth Employment Program or the City of Austin’s Youth Initiatives Office and some found us completely on their own. Each of our 2023 interns absorbed a baseline of additive manufacturing education, conducted research in areas of their own interest, and explored a consistent work / life experience during their time with us – and each took that “starter kit” in a unique direction to further their own educational and career goals.
As a company, we at TyRex have set a business direction that acknowledges that it is in our business interest to capture as much knowledge as possible about the vast applications that additive manufacturing (3D printing) will affect in both the short-term and long-term future. We have compiled a list of hundreds of known applications, growing weekly, and members of our professional staff regularly sign on to investigate / report on each. Although the topics can be dense, no engineering background is needed to investigate and report on them. Accountants, administrators and even interns research and report on these topics alongside our engineering staff. We hypothesized that a relationship with a relatively large number of student interns might provide a “win-win” opportunity to help with this work while benefiting those students along the way.
While many in our intern class of 2023 had plans for a career in engineering or 3D design-related fields, many were interested in computer science, health science or other divergent fields of study and found the skills – both hard and soft – they learned or refined at TyRex to be beneficial even in those industries. As one rising sophomore told us, “The possibilities of additive manufacturing are endless – applicable in almost all industries.” Overall, our reviews of the students were extremely positive – their understanding of emerging technology was impressive to say the least. The reviews of the 2023 TyRex internship experience from the students were also extremely positive, and several students accepted offers to extend their internship past the initial period. Over 50 completely unique 3D printing projects were completed by interns over the summer, with many of those projects spawning multiple iterations. The projects ranged from 3D modeling famous structures from 2D images and architecture to designs for custom automotive parts and even lightsabers! Research papers were submitted on topics like bioprinting, 3D printed medical implants and the viability of printing in materials like platinum. In addition to printing in polymers and plastics, students learned to print in clay, resin and food – a couple of motivated students even experimented with recycling filament and using 3D printing to affect climate change.
Each student intern was supplied with a workspace, a laptop and their own 3D printer. All interns learned the basic operations for Prusa i3 MK3S and Bambu Lab X1 Carbon 3D printers, then were given an introduction to four different 3D design software programs – Tinkercad, Onshape, SketchUp and Blender. Each intern also learned Prusa Slicer software, which bridges the gap between 3D design and 3D printing. While printer operation had its own learning curve, the biggest challenge for most interns lay within the software. “The software programs for 3D design are a lot different from one another,” said one intern. “It was a challenge to learn all of these different types of software, but it did prove quite useful since different software programs were better suited to certain projects.” Many interns commented that when they came across a roadblock, asking their supervisor or a fellow intern often got them past it quickly. We all shared what we knew and tried to advance each other’s projects along with our own. While all interns chose a research topic related to additive manufacturing, then completed and presented a research paper to their peers, some gravitated toward the research work more than others. At TyRex, we learned quickly that with these students (in part due to two academic years socially distanced due to Covid-19) the “real world” was tremendously attractive. While some interns had worked with computer aided design before joining TyRex, very few had actually seen the implications of physically producing their work – despite many of their schools having 3D printers available for student use. Working with a group in person, bouncing ideas off each other, learning from peers and even teaching or presenting to others were all mostly first-time experiences for our 2023 interns, as we learned. Each student received a letter of recommendation, a certificate of completion and an invitation to bring a student group back to TyRex for a facility tour or a training workshop.
While coordinating 27 unique internship experiences simultaneously was a significant undertaking, we believe other local businesses can piggyback off our success and provide even more professional exposure to our future workforce who are clearly demanding it. Three keys we’ve focused on and believe are essential to a successful internship program are:
- Genuine buy-in and necessary resources from upper management, including a dedicated day-to-day supervisor and at least one more decision maker closely attached.
- Clear communication to and from management, day-to-day supervisor and interns (plus parents, coordinators).
- A solid baseline plan or curriculum and 2-3 known deliverables, with built-in flexibility for interns to pursue areas of interest that benefit the company.
The benefits of an internship for teenagers may be known, but access can be murky. In our experience, our business clearly benefited from our class of interns both short-term through specific projects and long-term through building awareness of the manufacturing industry. At TyRex, we hope our case study can provide inspiration and insight for other local companies to adopt a robust intern program.
As the TyRex coordinator for 20+ internships, I personally felt a sense of responsibility that I don’t know I’ve felt professionally before – responsible for making the direct connection happen between student and business (for better or worse), responsible to the company in several different layers, responsible to the parents and the civic internship coordinators / programs we worked with. Having high-school age students in your professional environment has a lot of sometimes-seen, sometimes-sensed ripple effects that range across a sizeable spectrum of feelings, memorable moments and truly unique outcomes. Internships are proven by compelling statistics – and common sense “eye tests” we can all see – to benefit participating students and your business community, but participating companies can be blessed with some awfully rewarding benefits as well.