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Culture - Feb 16, 2023

National Engineers Week: Jeffry Barden

Ally Melby | Waupaca Foundry

Jeffry Barden, a Waupaca Foundry layout supervisor and tooling engineer at Plant 2/3 in Waupaca, Wisconsin, developed the skill set to become an engineer while on the job.

Jeff Barden, layout supervisor and tooling engineer at Waupaca Foundry Plants 2/3

Barden started working at Waupaca Foundry in the millroom department at Plant 1 in 1999, grinding and finishing gray iron castings. He continued his foundry career, moving from the molding to the melt department, then worked as a cupola operator, followed by being a lab technician, then transferred to the pattern repair shop, and lastly, became a casting layout technician in 2015.

From his experience in all major foundry manufacturing processes, Barden had an idea of how vertically-parted iron casting tooling was made and the engineering behind it. But he was interested in a castings origin and the software that contributed to it.

Barden often stayed after to work to watch how the software ran. Jeff Heschke, a layout foreman at Plant 1, noticed Barden’s interest and mentored him on how to use the software to scan a casting or  pattern and digitize it. Barden learned how to capture an image with 3D data points and make a model from it to compare casting models and then troubleshoot. Barden’s engineering know-how grew, and he was offered a tooling engineer position in 2018.

The traditional career pathway to becoming an engineer can take four to five years with extensive schooling and exams. For Barden, he did not know he wanted to become an engineer when starting his career. By being exposed to the many operations within a foundry, Barden was able to choose what interested him and follow his passion.

“When I started doing the layout work, I was computer illiterate, and within six months, I couldn't believe the stuff that I knew at that time, and it just went from there,” Barden says. “Sometimes you just kind of fall into something and you go, ‘Yeah, this fits my personality.’”
"What I saw in Jeff was that he was pretty enthusiastic about his job. I've trained quite a few people on this [software], and you can tell if they're going to make it or break it, and he just seemed to have a lot of enthusiasm,” Heschke says.

Today, Barden oversees the Plant 2/3 layout department. Barden uses the same software he was trained on by Heschke to make sure that the iron castings created meet customers’ model or print specifications. His team also troubleshoots through Waupaca Foundry’s wear check program and monitors tooling resiliency. What used to be a reactive program has become proactive to estimate tooling lifespan.

“The big thing that I see in our department is the advancements in the complexity of the castings we're making. We're starting to make more complicated castings with more complicated core packages, which is great. It's a very big challenge,” Barden says. “This is also something that's very important, complex castings. Not everybody can make them, but we can.”

A recent project of Barden’s includes reconstructing a 100-year-old bell frame for the Waupaca Historical Society. His team was responsible for scanning the bell and reverse-engineering the 3D scans of its frame to model an exact replica that would later be reproduced in cast iron. 

“I love doing the troubleshooting and the problem solving within and using software as a tool. It's a lot of fun,” Barden says.

When reflecting on his career path, from an entry-level foundry operator to tooling engineer, Barden says, “Find something you're interested in, apply yourself and just keep working at it. That's all you have to do. Adding the education is a bonus.”

Barden cleebrated his 24th anniversary with Waupaca Foundry on Febrauary 22, 2023. 

The theme of this year’s National Engineers Week is ‘Creating the Future.’ Today’s engineers play a vital role in innovating solutions that impact our everyday lives. At Waupaca Foundry, engineers are central to continuous improvement and innovation. We are proud to be the employer of 115 engineers in our electrical, mechanical, industrial, process, quality, environmental and tooling departments.

Cast your own future as an engineer at Waupaca Foundry: https://waupacafoundry.com/Careers
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