HANCEVILLE, ALA. – Select Wallace State Engineering Technology students completed a demanding and gratifying project during the spring semester, constructing a model of the Topre America Corporation building in Cullman for the Japanese-based company to display in their lobby.
Topre America representatives approached Wallace State earlier in the year about building a full-scale model of its facility, and Wallace State’s Engineering Technology Department was more than willing to embrace the challenge.
“It was a great project-based learning experience for our students. They were able to take everything they’ve learned conceptually and from a computer standpoint and use it on something they could actually put their hands on,” said Kristi Bain, an instructor in the Wallace State Engineering Technology Department. “We normally can’t afford these type of projects, but we were able to complete it because Topre was willing to fund something like this. It’s been great for us. We hope it creates a great friendship and partnership between the both of us. We were honored to tackle the project.”
The Topre facility model currently sits in the Cullman plant lobby, enclosed in a glass case. The model reads: “Presented from Topre Japan to Topre America Corporation in celebration of 10 years of outstanding accomplishments. June 6, 2014. Model constructed by Drafting and Design (Engineering Technology) students of Wallace State College, Hanceville, Alabama.”
“I was amazed at how engaged the students were in this project. They did a very impressive job! The Topre leaders were very pleased,” said Wallace State Dean of Applied Technologies Jimmy Hodges.
Drew Heatherly was among the Wallace State students selected from Bain’s advanced architecture class to tackle the project.
“I like building things, but I’ve never done anything like the Topre model. Everything had to be completed with such precision and detail. We had to figure out a lot of things through trial and error,” said Wallace State Engineering Technology student Drew Heatherly, 46, who lives in Vinemont and formerly worked at Cerro Wire in Hartselle before enrolling in the program. “I’m very proud of the work we did. I enjoyed the challenge and enjoyed making it. It was the most fun, educational experience I’ve ever had. I would do it again in a heartbeat. It made me realize old dogs can learn new tricks.”
Before constructing the model, Heatherly and fellow classmate Alex Nelson toured the exterior of the Topre facility twice in order to get a strong grasp of the facility’s layout. Heatherly took photographs of certain items, while Nelson conducted various measurements and took notes. They also relied on images from Google Maps.
Wallace State Engineering Technology students Caitlyn Schram, Cody Underwood, Caitlyn Scott and Nathan Harris were also on the Topre model team. The students were chosen mainly because they had completed the architectural class, which includes topics like architectural design, blueprints and building codes.
Heatherly estimates the team put in 200 hours overall regarding the project, from brainstorming and planning efforts to compiling materials to the model’s ultimate construction. He added that some aspects throughout the project were repeated three or four times.
The Wallace State team replicated all the major and minor details of the Topre facility, relying heavily on balsa wood — one of the lightest pieces of lumber available — in order to build a majority of the model’s materials. The trees and bushes in the model were the only thing premade for the students to utilize. Otherwise, the students had to remanufacture or bring to scale all other items, making sure the model could fit in a 3X3 foot area per Topre’s request.
The facility itself was made out of foam board. Basal wood was used to make the cars and trucks and other items like the air conditioning units. The team had to cut out, form and paint each car or truck.
Sewing push pins were used to make the light poles.
“Our students did a great job building a lot of the items to scale. A 3X3 foot area is an odd scale, so our students had to do a lot of math conversions and make sure they fit it into a certain area,” Bain said.
Castle Custom Cabinets in Hanceville built the model’s case.
Bain was impressed with how easily her students worked together as a team.
“It’s a good group of students. I gave them the project and they dealt with it. I made them work as a team. It was almost like they built their own company. I was just the liaison and overseer. They had to figure out responsibilities amongst themselves like who was going to be the team leader, the contact person for the drawings, who was going to contact the company and who was going to be the painter,” Bain said. “It was a great opportunity for them to work in a team-based project, but it also helped them learn about some of their strengths and weaknesses and about other roles in businesses and industries.”
The Wallace State model team was allowed to tour inside the Topre plant after they completed the project and have since seen the display in the lobby. Topre officials have commented to Bain about the positive comments the model receives from visitors, especially regarding the specific details involved with the project. Topre’s Japanese officials have also been excited about the model during their visits.
“I hope this project creates a life-time partnership between us and Topre and allows them to continue to see the talent at Wallace State,” Bain said.
For more information about Wallace State, visit wallacestate.edu.