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Teams Invent, Make, Sell Products : Students Discover the Ways of the Marketplace

From Associated Press

Students in one of Jim LaPorte’s industrial arts labs at Virginia Tech get a taste of the marketplace by inventing, producing and selling their own products, all within a semester.

“We try to emulate what goes on in industry,” said LaPorte, assistant professor of vocational technical education. “It’s fun, it’s realistic, it’s exciting and it’s a lot of work. But I think it’s meaningful work.”

Three Teams Compete

The classes were directed at a common criticism that schools often fail to prepare students for the real world because they give them too much theory and too little practice.

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This school year, LaPorte divided his students into three teams of six or seven, each of which formed a company.

Greg Farrar’s group formed D. B. Gramp and produced a walnut case for computer diskettes, a product that won the grand prize in the Stanley-Proto Tools mass-production competition this year.

Dave McGuigan’s group formed a company called Stan-True Tree Stands, which produced wooden Christmas tree holders. Wright Brothers Furniture, headed by Lori McKee, built foldable oak and canvas chairs.

After deciding on a product, students sought donations of materials for 20 completed pieces or, as an alternative, sold enough shares to purchase the materials.

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After building a prototype, each company researched the market potential by asking dozens of students what they liked and didn’t like about the product.

D. B. Gramp’s survey of 70 students prompted some minor design changes, such as cutting the size to hold from 50 to 100 diskettes. “Our analysis told us this was the size people would be comfortable with,” said Farrar.

McKee said students preferred her group’s chair to one sold at a local bookstore because of its appearance and stability. McGuigan said 50 to 55 students interviewed liked the tree holder just as it was.

LaPorte said one of the biggest challenges for the students was to design tooling machinery so products could be mass-produced. Each company was required to build 20 pieces of its product in two hours.

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None of the groups had enough labor to produce the products without hiring and training workers from other classes. Each company had 20 to 25 production workers.

D. B. Gramp made 24 diskette cases in two hours. Stan-True made its 20 Christmas tree stands in 47 minutes, and Wright Brothers built 22 chairs before the deadline.

The students said they had little trouble selling their products because of the low prices they charged.

Farrar said his group spent $3 to build the diskette boxes, which sold for $15 each. The Christmas tree stand sold for $9, or $4 more than the cost of materials. Wright Brothers “spent” $12 for materials and charged $30 for each chair, or $15 under bookstore prices.

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The student marketplace did differ from the real one in an important respect, however. The students didn’t charge for labor, often the biggest cost of producing goods in the real marketplace.

LaPorte says he hopes to work labor costs into future projects.


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