Reflecting on an Engineering Internship

American Flexible Products (AFP) was my first engineering internship. Before my first day, I did not know what to expect; all my prior engineering knowledge had come from lectures and group projects at Iowa State University. Despite feeling prepared academically, I was still anxious for what was to come. What was the professional engineering environment really like? Would I even like engineering outside of the academic world?

Thankfully, these worries were swiftly washed away. On the first day, I was already assisting in the design of a fixture to be used for one of the assembly processes. Even though I had no understanding on how to design and manufacture an effective assembly fixture, my ideas were still welcome and were either taken into consideration or respectfully explained as to why they would not work. Having an open environment to learn allowed me to feel confident to try new things and learn from my mistakes.

The opportunity to expand my technical skillset attracted me to AFP. As an Aerospace Engineering student, a large emphasis of my curriculum is on software skills and applied theory. While being able to create programs tailored to a specific need is incredibly important, I felt I was lacking the ability to grab the bull by the horns and turn my ideas into reality. From my time here, I have been able to learn: Arc and MIG welding, Milling, Lathing, and waterjet/laser cutting. Nearly every day I would be using at least one of these tools to test materials, create fixtures or work on projects to be used on any of the various machines.

It did not take me long to realize how passionate and knowledgeable the employees at AFP are about the industry. Often during my internship, I would approach the operators and ask what they were currently working on just to learn more about the machines and materials they worked with. As I learned more and spent more time running sample test runs, it became apparent the amount of hurdles manufacturing foam and plastic parts can deliver. Anything from adhesive bleed-back, to fraying from water jet cutting, to material curl all had to be carefully considered when making a decision on the best manufacturing process.

As I approach my last day at AFP, I am saddened to have to leave. However, I am confident the skills and experience gained from my time here have better prepared me for a career in the professional engineering world.

Grant Mathiason
Manufacturing Engineering Intern
Aerospace Engineering Student, Iowa State University

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