Students in drafting classes at Davie County High School (DCHS) are constantly creating, tinkering, and innovating. Driven by identifying and solving problems, their projects encompass everything from a mold for synthetic fishing worms to cell phone holders for their cars.
These product solutions have been used in students’ personal lives, other DCHS classrooms, and even in local manufacturing businesses. Some solutions are benefitting companies nationwide.
Davie High Junior Jaydon Leonard is a shining success story of the school’s internships with local manufacturers. While interning with Avgol, a nonwoven fabrics manufacturer, he redesigned a new product, enabling the business to significantly cut down on ordering lead time and reduce costs.
At Avgol’s facility, nonwoven fabrics are produced and cut using a slitter, where excess fabric is fed into an exhaust system and blown elsewhere in its production line. Previously, Avgol needed both a pipe clamp and insert as part of this exhaust system to secure two tubes coming into either side of a coupling.
The need for the pipe clamp and insert were eliminated with Leonard’s creation of a new tube coupling.
To be versatile, Leonard’s coupling needed to accommodate pipes of various sizes, as the multiple exhaust systems on different product lines have tubes of different diameters. Leonard worked through nine iterations of design, which evolved over time to better fit the tubing.
“It took a lot of tweaking to get the piece to fit perfectly,” said Leonard, explaining that he made improvements to allow for better ease of securing and removing the coupling.
His innovative design is engineered to fit any set of pipes. The coupling is integral to their operations, as it is used in every product line that requires an exhaust system.
Leonard shared that while this project was more challenging than other assignments he’s received, “ I really enjoy 3D modeling and being able to redesign things to make them work better. Take the Avgol tube coupler – I really enjoyed making it fit all of their machines. It tested my limits, and it helped Avgol a lot.”
The new coupling piece has made a significant impact at Avgol. Leonard not only created a better product, but it’s now only one-third of the original cost. It also eliminated an installation step for Avgol technicians, relieving employee frustrations and increasing operational efficiency.
Leonard has worked on ten different projects for Avgol. He shared that “I love being able to fix problems that other people have.”
“They don’t have to worry about needing two parts, and putting this on the machine is much quicker. It’s universal to the entire facility, so they don’t have to get different parts for different machines,” Leonard explained.
Previously, these inserts and couplings were ordered from Italy, which had a multi-week lead time. The replacement coupling piece is now printed in Davie County at DCHS. Instead of taking weeks for the stock to be delivered to Avgol, they can place an order and have it on hand within hours.
Drafting students at the high school are taught to approach projects by finding and identifying an initial problem. After defining a problem statement, students sketch an initial design and product. This is later translated to a prototype, often crafted from scrap cardboard, wood, or playdough. Modeling software formalizes the prototype, and then a 3D printer makes a student’s idea come to life.
Students often proactively seek out opportunities to develop new projects, but these partnerships happen organically, too, as DCHS educators discuss their workflow and needs with their colleagues.
Through this process, students have created an all-purpose measuring spoon to aid horticulture students in precise nutrient and animal feed measurements, funnels for dust collection in carpentry class, and molecule models for AP Chemistry.
“People come to us with a need, and we try to solve it,” shared Will Marrs, who teaches drafting classes at DCHS. Part of the Career and Technical Education (CTE) department at the high school, Marrs is the Piedmont Triad Teacher of the Year for 2024.
“This is applied learning at its best. Students sit down with the end user, identify their problem, and then think, ‘How can I fix this?’”
Davie County EMS ensures ambulances are always ready at a moment’s notice. As height adjustments to ambulance gurneys are now motorized, they require a power source – in this case, a rechargeable battery system.
Personnel realized that constantly engaging a battery in their gurneys meant they were losing charge. Davie High’s drafting students sought to design a mounting piece that would secure an additional battery to the emergency vehicle wall.
Drafting student Baydon Stanley reverse-engineered a mounting piece that stores a spare battery securely. In his design considerations, Stanley had to account for a pre-existing attachment system in the vehicle. His new mounting enables a spare battery to be both charged and easily accessible when needed, even during a hasty transit to a 911 call.
Stanley created a project for the Farmington Fire Department as well. A dashboard handle used for entrance and exit into one of Farmington’s trucks was deteriorating, making movement unstable and less safe for firefighting personnel.
After the Farmington Fire Department dropped off the deteriorating handle at the school, a new prototype was printed with DCHS’ 3D printing machine within hours that same afternoon.
Although a small, short project for Stanley, his design had a big impact. The new spacer secured tightly to the dashboard, improving working conditions and safety for Farmington’s firefighters.
Todd Naylor, fire chief at the Farmington Fire Department, shared his thoughts. “The class did an excellent job on the project. The replacement part looks better than the original, and they produced it quicker than I could have ordered and received one from the factory.”
The student internship program is a key focus of the CTE department at Davie. Over 100 students have been placed in local internships over the past two and a half years, with fifteen businesses alone participating just last summer.
CTE staff establish internship opportunities according to students’ interests, ensuring the internships are a good fit for the business and student. These internships allow students to obtain course credit, get real-world experience, and often earn money.
“CTE is trying to make students career-ready and help them acquire skills they may use later on in life. CTE does such a good job of helping students either explore careers and get their feet wet, or just become aware of their career opportunities,” said Marrs.
An alumnus of Davie High, Marrs is committed to giving students real-world opportunities he didn’t have while a student at DCHS.
“The more we can get students to experience industry and what we have here in Davie County, the better,” he said. “When that happens, what they are studying is much more tangible and real to them.”
The program pays dividends for those businesses investing in students. Participating companies often recognize a return on their investment by hiring student interns after graduation, forgoing the need for and cost of onboarding their new employees, as they are already up to speed. Some companies have recognized hundreds of thousands of dollars in these savings.
The internship program creates a mutually beneficial relationship for students and businesses alike, especially in the local manufacturing sector.
Throughout their internships, many DCHS students use innovations learned in the classroom to solve real-world problems. The initial internship placements with Ashley Furniture (Ashley) served as proof of concept.
While a summer intern at Ashley, student Tanner Rouse designed a racking system for king-sized mattresses. His design is integrated within their assembly line for mattresses ready to have final upholstery added, holding up to 5,000 mattresses at a time. It’s now used by the furniture company internationally.
Madelyn Whitt also created an impressive design as an intern at Ashley Furniture. She designed a dead-man switch in the form of a joystick, which prevents a machine from being turned on unless the switch is engaged. This feature proved integral to workplace safety and was implemented in Ashley’s heavy machinery fleet across the US.
Marrs was eager to share his thoughts on his students’ impact.
“They’re solving real-world problems. They work directly with the technicians on the floor, the managers, and improve their lives as well as the company’s bottom line.”
“I’m proud beyond words,” Marrs said, beaming as he discussed all his students have accomplished.
Davie County is leading the way in career and technical education at the high school level. Their CTE department works to engage and empower students to become successful employees and leaders in a global economy, with cutting-edge resources and in-house capabilities.
The department hopes that students in Davie County Schools graduate with both technical experience and employable certifications. Their innovative approach serves as a model for other high schools throughout the state.
“CTE is getting students career-ready regardless of their plans after high school. When they’re on-site problem solving, getting real-world experience and first-hand industry experience, that’s massive. And we hope we’re setting them up for a successful future because of that.”