Cal Poly Engineering Labs Receive $350,000 from Key Figure in Auto Racing and Machining

Brian Hillenbrand (Mechanical Engineering, '19) works in the advanced machining lab as a student. The advanced machining lab and the material removal lab will both be renamed in honor of a $350,000 donation from the Gene Haas Foundation.
SAN LUIS OBISPO — Two manufacturing labs at Cal Poly will be renamed in honor of a $350,000 donation from the Gene Haas Foundation, which will help the labs remain up-to-date and safe for the hundreds of engineering students who use them every year. 

“The new gift for the Gene Haas labs pairs two successful organizations, Cal Poly and the Gene Haas Foundation, and links together our interests toward graduating top-notch engineers and making sure our labs are state-of-the-art and in excellent condition,” said Dan Waldorf, chair of Cal Poly’s Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering Department.

To recognize Haas’ commitment, the material removal lab and the advanced machining lab, located in the Grant M. Brown Engineering Building (Building 41A), will be called the Gene Haas Material Removal Lab and the Gene Haas Advanced Machining Lab for the next 10 years.

Each facility will feature prominent signage with the Haas name and logo. Meanwhile, the donation will create an endowment for the lab to fund yearly technology, tooling and equipment upgrades. (The money cannot be used to purchase new or upgrade existing Haas equipment.)

“We should be on the cutting edge when teaching manufacturing engineering,” said Trian Georgeou, a lecturer in the Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering Department, who brought this opportunity to Haas. “In order to stay on the cutting edge, we have to continuously upgrade curriculum and equipment.”

The Oxnard, California-based Gene Haas Foundation partners with schools and organizations to expose students to careers in manufacturing and to provide scholarships to the students who choose a career in CNC machining and/or manufacturing engineering. When the foundation sought to boost its presence on college campuses, Georgeou responded with an in-depth proposal to support the labs.

The foundation was launched in 1999 by Gene Haas, founder of Haas Automation and a key figure in NASCAR and Formula One Racing. Haas Automation is the largest machine tool builder in the Western world, manufacturing a complete line of CNC vertical machining centers, horizontal machining centers, lathes and multi-axis machining products.

“Gene Haas believes that a strong manufacturing economy is vital to the strength of a nation,” said the Haas Foundation’s Kathy Looman, director of education and Gene Haas Centers naming rights.

The foundation had previously sponsored labs at Cal Poly — including $40,000 annually for student lab techs — largely because Haas sees the value of the university’s Learn by Doing approach.

“The Engineering methodology at Cal Poly is completely aligned with the manufacturing industry as a whole as well as Haas and their customers,” Looman said. “In manufacturing, specifically in machining, the phrase ‘design for manufacturability’ is frequently used and extremely relevant.”

Many engineering programs, she added, have gravitated toward the theoretical side of teaching, losing sight of the manufacturing aspect of design.

Cal Poly students, Georgeou said, are first exposed to the design for manufacturability concept their freshman year. “So, when they get out to industry, they’re not going to design something that can’t be made,” he said. “They’re going to understand what can and can’t be done with these machine tools, and they’re going to get the projects done.”

Looman said the signage will also offer encouragement.

“It is a validation of a student’s career choice when a successful person supports their endeavors, whether it be providing a lab for their training or scholarship funds to make it possible for them to focus more fully on their objectives,“ she said. “Gene Haas has been very successful in business, starting Haas Automation from inception. Gene Haas also has a ‘cool factor’ by owning successful race teams, and students can feel connected to an industry whose success depends on design and engineering.”

The material removal lab is especially prominent in the college. Each year, some 700 students — typically freshmen, from numerous engineering programs — learn to use the machine tools there.

“We’re running four three-hour lab shifts a day in there,” Georgeou said. “We start basically at 8 in the morning, and we end at 9 at night.”

In the advanced lab, roughly 200 students — typically mechanical and manufacturing engineering majors — produce more-complex parts, molds and fixtures of their own design.

Both labs contain Haas machines that were offered to the college at educational-discounted prices. Those machines, Georgeou said, help students to be prepared for careers on Day One.

“Most engineering students don’t get the opportunity to use CNC machines until maybe their junior or senior year,” he said. “And they’re not actually programming them or setting them up themselves — they’re just introduced to them. So, they’re not actually hands-on working on them like our engineering students do at Cal Poly.”

Photo information: Brian Hillenbrand (Mechanical Engineering, '19) works in the advanced machining lab as a student. The advanced machining lab and the material removal lab will both be renamed in honor of a $350,000 donation from the Gene Haas Foundation.

Contact: Pat Pemberton
805-235-0555; ppembert@calpoly.edu

June 9, 2021

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