An easier-said-than-done catchphrase echoes throughout the world of business and beyond:Think outside the box.

Perhaps that’s a particularly fitting directive for a younger generation.

“We were faced with the problem of a different way of advertising,” Bethel Park High School student Zachary Lizun said. “We decided to do a 360 video because it’s something that will engage customers even more. ‘Here’s a video, but I want you to have your own experience.’”

For the edification of an older generation, a 360-degree video allows someone using a virtual reality headset – you saw such products advertised abundantly during the holiday season – to take a look at a subject in every direction.

In the case of Lizun and some of his classmates, the subject of their video is the Oakdale headquarters of EAFab Corp., an international provider of parts for the steel industry.

Bethel Park students taking computer integrated manufacturing joined with those in Upper St. Clair High School’s STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics – innovation and consulting course to provide solutions to problems posed by EAFab owners Pedro and Claudia Quiroga.

Students from both schools presented their results to the Quirogas, who are Upper St. Clair residents, during a daylong gathering Feb. 22 at California University of Pennsylvania’s Southpointe Center in Cecil Township.

“Being in high school is not really a limitation for this,” Pedro Quiroga, whose company has participated in the innovation and consulting program since its launch in 2014, said. “One of the biggest surprises that we got the very first time we did this is how much we did learn from the kids.”

The 2016-17 version featured eight teams of students, four from each school, who addressed a variety of practical issues, from workflow and system improvements at the manufacturing facility to integrating aspects of virtual reality.

“This took a lot of research and a lot of time, because it was something I’d never touched on before,” Lizun said about his team’s project. “I’d only seen a couple of videos on it, and it was completely new to me.”

Viewing a 360-degree video was a new experience for some audience members, who had the opportunity to check it out using VR headsets – they’re custom-made, bearing the EAFab logo – after the Quirogas took a look.

“This program, it gives you the ability to travel to the future for a few,” Pedro observed, referring to the talents and skills of the next generation. “They’re coming. So, you know what? I need to get myself involved, at least to give me a little window.”

He mentioned a “big bonus”:

“They’re really smart. They actually gave me solutions,” he said about previous years’ participants in the program. “They gave me things that have had a direct impact on certain processes that we have.”

Another of this year’s projects involved a team of Upper St. Clair students developing a parametric library for EAFab, a compilation of three-dimensional objects for the sake of implementing product specifications in a more expedient manner. To illustrate the applicability, the students used the example of a water-cooled panel, which the company manufactures for use in steelmaking furnaces.

“We needed to find a way for EAFab to edit some aspect of a part and have the rest of the features of that part adjust accordingly,” team member Johanna Chikuni explained. “For example, if we were to increase the height of the panel, we would want the number of pipes within the panel to increase proportionately.”

She later provided reasons to use such a library:

“Instead of going through the tedious process of putting in all the new dimensions and doing all the calculations, you now have a quick and simple process of plugging in the new numbers and having the model generate itself,” she said. “It also cuts the development time down to a matter of minutes.”

Along with EAFab and Upper St. Clair, the original partners in the innovation and consulting program also included South Fayette High Schools, All Clad Manufacturers LLC in Cecil Township and the LUMA Institute, a training and development venture of Pittsburgh technology firm MAYA Design.

The program since has grown to include Bethel Park and Mt. Lebanon high schools, along with Universal Electric Corp., also based in Cecil. Next year, the program is scheduled to expand further to include Peters Township and an additional industry partner.

The Quirogas plan to continue to take the opportunity to work with younger people.

“If we really want to have a chance to understand this generation, we need to take the time,” Pedro said. “This generation is just as good as our generation. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this generation.”

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