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CDME at Forefront of Experiential Learning


While other high school students were working as babysitters or lifeguards, Phillip Merz spent the summer before his senior year at Columbus Alternative High School working as a research assistant at a welding engineering laboratory at The Ohio State University.

“Essentially that pushed me towards engineering even further because, going into your senior year of high school, that’s when you kind of make your decision of what you want to do,” Merz said. “I figured I liked what they did there, so I’ll take a shot at engineering.”

Now a welding engineering major, Merz works at Ohio State’s Center for Design and Manufacturing Excellence (CDME) where he is immersed in an experiential learning atmosphere.

Launched in 2014, CDME aims to bridge the gap between academia and industry by being Ohio State’s preeminent leader in innovative applied engineering for product design, technology commercialization and manufacturing for industry.


Phillip Merz photo working on additive system for metal parts
Welding engineering major Phillip Merz works on additive system for metal parts.

Merz first heard about CDME during his freshman year from one of his Fundamentals of Engineering for Honors Robot Competition teammates, Tyler Bair, the son of CDME Executive Director John Bair. The elder Bair offered Merz a position at CDME and he started that summer.

Currently, Merz is focused on the development of an additive system for metal parts that equips a gas metal arc welder (GMAW). Differing from the popular fused deposition modeling (FDM) 3-D printers, the GMAW 3-D printer will build metal parts using MIG welding wire and gun as opposed to thermoplastic filaments and hot-ends. The overall goal of the student project, Merz said, is to reduce the cost of metal 3-D printing and create an alternative to what’s already on the market.

By completing real-world projects both for the center and for industry partners such as Honda North America and Whirlpool, CDME Senior Collaboration Manager Eric Wagner said that students are able to get the head start they need on their future careers.

“Experiential learning gives these students the opportunity to see something from the beginning to the end in an industrial setting and in a manufacturing setting,” Wagner said. “It allows them to get a true feel for what it would be like when they’re actually operating in a real industrial setting.”

Mentored by CDME engineers, faculty and staff, students work on a wide range of projects. Wagner described CDME as “kind of an interesting model in respect that we try to get them out of their comfort zones.”

Industrial design major Vladi Kotov designed an off-the-shelf illumination and imaging system embedded into a cellphone case to allow startup Columbus NanoWorks to demonstrate the capability of their nanodiamonds. Chemical engineering major Jake Martin was awarded a patent for his work to refine the design of the Circular Wave Drive, a gearing system created at Ohio State to replace robotic gears, to allow it to operate in industrial robots. As part of a project to help commercialize a novel nano-particle coating technology, chemical engineering major Jordan Potts worked with CDME engineers to develop an automated spray deposition system that delivers the particles in an industrial manner and developed the first oil-water mesh separation samples.

“One of the things they drive in to you here is that if you’ve been here for a while you’re going to be a step ahead of everyone else who graduates,” Merz said.

Merz and his peers are also the first cohort of CDME’s Experiential Entrepreneurship Education (E3) Program, launched last summer. It’s the first nationwide to combine product design, commercialization, manufacturing and business model learning with onsite prototyping capabilities and real-time, industry-sponsored R&D projects.

While approximately 75 percent of CDME’s student assistants are engineering majors, all Ohio State students are eligible to participate.

Accounting major Maddie Longer works on the business side of things at CDME. She joined the team after looking for a job her freshman year that would be applicable to her major and would give her real-world experience and examples to discuss in interviews.

“At CDME I have had a variety of assignments and projects in many different fields of business, which has allowed me to identify the projects I enjoy working on and look to pursue a career in,” Longer said.

In addition to creating the monthly Manufacturing Extension Partnership newsletter and updating CDME’s website, Longer is also in the beginning stages of working on a lean analysis for a local company.

The connections Longer has made have also helped her in her search for an internship for next summer. She echoed Merz that the real-world setting at CDME is something that can’t be replicated in class.

“I truly value working at CDME because not only do I gain real-world experience through my projects and working with legitimate clients, but I also gain the insights from working professionals who are teaching me skills that you will never learn in college classes,” Longer said. “I enjoy the teaching style that has been adopted at CDME and I think it will be very beneficial when I graduate and get a full-time job.”

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