• Featured Member

  • October 2018

    Engaging academic institutions with industry

  • The Minnesota State Engineering Center of Excellence (MSECE) is shaping the next generation of engineers. They are focused on advancing Minnesota’s engineering innovation and competitiveness by enhancing education, engaging industry, and inspiring students.

    On a day-to-day basis the MSECE facilitates relationships by engaging academic institutions with industry and provide educational outreach by inspiring interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). They foster accessibility to the latest technologies, workforce programs, and post-secondary education.

    Established in 2004, the Center is physically located in Mankato, MN, and is comprised of a director, STEM outreach, post-secondary outreach and an administrative assistant. An advisory council, consisting of both industry members and academic partners, help to provide guidance and direction.

    (Photo at right: MSECE Director Jason Bruns, right, giving a certificate to a tour host in October 2017. Photo provided)

    Workforce Pipeline Project

    MSECE Director Jason Bruns is continuing workforce pipeline effort by supporting Advanced Career (AC) for secondary schools’ Career and Technical Education (CTE) options. It consists of four courses that emphasize state standards for both college and career preparation. This program was designed to meet employer needs by emphasizing the key areas:  critical thinking, complex problem solving, written and oral communication, and applied knowledge using real-world problem-solving activities.

    Pathways include: Aerospace Engineering, Clean Energy Technology, Energy and Power, Global Logistics & Supply Chain Management, Health Informatics, Informatics, Innovations in Science and Technology and Integrated Production Technologies. These pathway programs emphasize industry-focused questions that student teams must address. Students are mentored by industry partners, and complete projects utilizing industry-recognized equipment. Advanced Career prepares students for a career and/or college.

    Legacy Workforce Project

    The MSECE works with TCI Solutions, who created the Legacy Iᶟ Model, to provide companies with a low-cost, sustainable method of developing local, diverse talent into viable candidates for employment. The Legacy Iᶟ Model is based on a collaborative approach in which they synchronize and leverage the existing resources from five key sectors: relevant industry/company, local secondary educational institutes, local post-secondary educational institutes, local/national community-based organizations, and federal, state and local government agencies. The Engineering Center of Excellence initiates this collaborative effort with school districts, business partners, associations and the Legacy team.

    Lean Mfg Initiative

    The Leaning Manufacturing Initiative is a curriculum that teaches industrial Lean, or Continuous Improvement, concepts and tools. The concept of Lean is simply creating more value for customers with fewer resources; it allows a business to work more efficiently with fewer resources, combating the current industry need for already deficient numbers of workforce employees. Lean is truly the only organic means of business growth. The educators who have gone through this curriculum will be able to teach Lean tools, and in conjunction with an industry partner, perform a class Lean event on a production floor. This seeding program has invested into educators associated with the trades industry, MN Department of Corrections, colleges and universities.

    Workforce Partnership

    Finally, the MN Workforce Partnership is a joint venture with state programs, academia and industry members to share projects and promote cross-functional opportunities. The MSECE coordinates guest speakers to discuss challenging topics that relate to industry and/or academia. Some examples of previous topics are: hiring a felon, hiring a veteran, building Minnesota’s workforce with competency based credits, hiring and retain women in the workforce, and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).

    These are just a few of the projects they have going on. Where can they collaborate with you? For more information, visit their website at:  http://engineering.mnsu.edu/

    Article collaboration by the Minnesota State Engineering Center of Excellence and Becky Hauschild, MMA Communication Specialist.


  • September 2018

    Winning Together Honorably


  • Brenton L. Smith envisioned a system that would integrate engineering with manufacturing when he founded Aagard Group in 1997. Aagard designs and manufactures industrial automation and packaging machinery largely for the food and plastics industries, as well as several others. They manufacture unique packaging solutions that combine cartoners, case packers, sleevers, palletizers and retort loaders/unloaders. To date they have 525+ machines shipped or in the field in North America.


    Smith started the company in Carlos, MN and moved it to Alexandria in 2002 when they outgrew their first facility. Aagard built a new facility in the Alexandria industrial park in 2006 that was 43,000 square feet with a workforce of 60 employees. In 2008 they grew by 31,000 square feet and the workforce grew to 85 employees.

    Aagard expanded again in 2017, adding 41,000 square feet, 31,000 of which provides additional manufacturing space, with the rest comprising a new lunch room, bathrooms and conference rooms with a workforce of 210. The Aagard site is 13 acres so they have the capacity to expand well into the future.

    Company Focus

    Aagard has a focus on “Production Capability” with their staff carefully considering every aspect of safety, capability and reliability with each project. This focus includes a thorough testing phase for every piece of packaging machinery they produce.

    Aagard executes an Internal Factory Acceptance Test (IFAT), a thorough validation of design, safety, static and dynamic criteria, one week prior to customer demonstration to assure a successful and efficient FAT and vertical startup. Every machine is proven with a complete Factory Acceptance Test (FAT) process that establishes a partnership between the customer and Aagard.

    Aagard employs more than 40 engineers and builds its components and electrical panels in-house which allows them more control over quality and scheduling.

    The company has a seven-day-a-week fabrication department with 12 CNC mills, four lathes and a variety of support equipment. Aagard also offers remote technical support, as well as upgrades and retrofits for current packaging machinery.


    Aagard provides a three-step training program for customers, including 1) introductory training 2) operator hands-on demonstration, and 3) technical training for in-depth trouble shooting.

    Tool program

    After witnessing employees coming to work without the appropriate tools and/or the funds to 

  • Aagard plant
  • Aagard plant with 2017 addition evident in the roofing.

  • 328-Aspire_Szd-w500.jpg
  • The Aagard Aspire packaging machine.

  • team2018-w500.jpg
  • The Aagard weekday team in 2018.

  • weekendTeam2018-w500.jpg
  • The weekend team at Aagard in 2018.

  • purchase tools, Aagard instituted a tool program in 2017 to provide employees with new stocked rolling tool cabinets. The program provides Snap-On cabinets that house every tool Aagard employees may need. At the end of the employee’s employment at Aagard the cabinets are inventoried, and any loss is remedied with the employee.

    “Our tool program will increase efficiencies due to all technicians having access to the same set of tools,” said Smith. “It also increases the mobility of technicians around the machines. In addition, it reduces labor costs, tool box clutter, out-of-pocket expenses for employees and assembly-related service costs which benefits our customers and creates the total project success we strive for.”

    Written by Becky Hauschild, Communications Specialist. Background materials and photos provided by Aagard.