Learning by Design

Photo By
Hannah Ziegeler

Luis Ruiz puts his classwork to work at Fabri-Kal.


Chicago, IL


Western Michigan University (WMU)
Engineering Technology Major; Mathematics Minor

Expected Graduation: Spring 2020


Product Design Intern at Fabri-Kal Corporation

Becoming a Part of the Team

Because Fabri-Kal is one of the nation’s largest providers of food service packaging materials, our engineers are working on many projects at the same time. I assist the design engineers when they need help or a fresher set of eyes.

A lot of people ask me [to describe] the difference between a design engineer and a mechanical engineer. I use the way one of my professors described it. Mechanical engineers use incredibly in-depth equations. If you gave their plans to a machinist, the machinist would go crazy. So, the job of a design engineer is to take these technical designs, account for allowances of error, and make them understandable, manufacturable, and aesthetically pleasing.

Trial and Error

One of the two projects that I have been assigned requires me to record the measurements of 3D printing shrinks of generic parts and shapes. Then, I take the average of those measurements and accommodate for that shrink rate. Hopefully, I’ll get that part closer and closer to its intended specifications.

My second assignment is a common tolerance project. Fabri-Kal has multiple families of products, and because they are all made of different materials, each has a different common tolerance, or the range of acceptable error. Essentially, I am finding the “golden rule” of standard error that is acceptable for our different cups and lids.

Guidance and Growth

My mentor, Mike Hanson, meets with me almost every day to give feedback and updates on the progress of my projects. When something goes wrong on the production line, he takes me out there so I can see where the issue lies and how I could have designed the mold better to prevent the error.

Education in Action

My classwork at WMU definitely prepared me for this internship. In class, I learned the computer design programs and technical vocabulary that I now use every day. So, I started with a knowledge of plastics and the thermoforming process that Fabri-Kal uses to make its products. I am excited to continue to put my knowledge into practice outside the classroom and get some hands-on experience.

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