Mich. company’s donation powering marine education

Posted Nov. 20, 2009, at 9:54 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:53 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — In the automotive shop at Eastern Maine Community College, two students bent over a clean, white 12-cylinder marine diesel engine recently, checking the valves.

Behind them sat another 12-cylinder model, and over their shoulders was a monster 16-cylinder engine rated at 2,400 horsepower.

There are five new marine engines on the floor now, donated to the college by Detroit Diesel Corp. in Michigan. The engines will power a new marine component for the diesel program at EMCC that will give students a better opportunity to work in Maine’s boat-building industry.

“These are awesome,” said Gene Fadrigon, chair of the automotive-truck and heavy equipment department at the college. “We’ve been wanting to do something in the marine sector, and these give us the ability to do that.”

The five engines are built by MTU of Germany for Detroit Diesel and were used as demonstration and floor models by Detroit at boat shows. They range in size from an eight-cylinder model to the 16-cylinder model that weighs about 12,000 pounds.

The donation came through the efforts of Bangor Region Development Alliance President David Milan. BRDA is a public-private partnership for economic development in the region whose partners include EMCC. Milan and Mike Ballesteros, EMCC dean of development and business services, have attended a number of trade shows together, and it was at a marine trade show in Florida where Milan met Steve Mazepink, a sales representative for Detroit Diesel.

Milan, who also serves on the college’s advisory board, was aware of the desire to begin a marine engine program and asked Mazepink if the company had any extra engines the school could use.

“It turned out that they did,” Milan said. “Steve said that his boss had just told him there were some trade show engines that they had to get rid of.”

It took several years of talks to make the arrangements, but the engines arrived in Bangor in August.

The college is still working with Detroit Diesel to determine a value of the donated engines. Fadrigon said one estimate put the value of the largest of the engines at more than $100,000.

The engines stand out on the floor of the automotive shop as bigger, whiter and cleaner than the older marine engines.

Students are excited about the newest additions to the program and are itching to get to work on them, Fadrigon said. About 32 students are enrolled in EMCC’s diesel program, and a number of them have expressed interest in the marine engines.

“I can’t wait to get them running,” said Eric Smith, 33, of Dexter, a second-year student in the diesel program.

Smith said he’s looking forward to learning more about the marine engines and sees it as a chance to develop more skills for when he enters the job market.

“It opens the options up,” he said. “I can work on a truck; I can work on a boat.”

That’s part of the attraction for the college as well, Fadrigon said. The boat-building industry in Maine is looking for qualified technicians to work in the boatyards and marinas, he said. While the marinas provide specific training once a worker is hired, the college can provide the basic training students need to get a foot in the door, he said.

“We try to prepare them, to give them a good foundation to build on,” he said. “If we can give [students] a good background, teach them the dos and don’ts and give them good work habits, [the boatyards] will take them and do the rest.”

Fadrigon said he is excited about the opportunities that may develop across the river in Hampden where Hodgdon Yachts hopes to build a new generation of patrol boats for the U.S. Navy. Hodgdon has built a prototype using composite materials, now undergoing testing by the Navy, which is powered by twin 2,400 hp MTU engines just like the 16-cylinder model sitting in the shop at EMCC.

“I think this will be a big incentive for them to come to Hampden, if they have a work force of capable, trained technicians that have a background in the engines they’re using,” he said. “And that’s a great incentive for students to want to be in that industry.”

It is important for the college to be connected with the industry and for the industry to be connected with the program, he said.

“They can help us to develop a curriculum and we can supply them with the technicians who have the qualifications to meet their demands,” he said.

This kind of cooperation is essential to the effort to provide skilled employees for industries in the state, according to Ballesteros.

“The more technical the educational program, the greater the expense of running the program,” he said. “It would be impossible to provide a relevant learning environment with up-to-date equipment without the support of the industry.”

The industry-institution cooperation is also a key to economic development in Maine, Milan said.

“Economic development is more than bringing in a call center with 500 jobs,” he said. “It’s also about helping to create a trained, local work force so that companies will want to come to Maine, companies that will help to keep our kids here in Maine with jobs where they can make a livable wage.”

The engines have not been run yet, although students have been examining them to ensure they’re all in working condition before they start them up.

“We still don’t know exactly how they were used or what condition they’re in,” Fadrigon said. “We didn’t want to start them up and have something break. We’re just walking our way through it now.”

The Detroit representative, Mazepink, who has since retired, is scheduled to come to the college to discuss the engines and how they were used. The company also has promised to provide manuals and maybe even some spare parts. Although the marine engines are similar to truck engines on the inside, because they are designed for a marine environment their exterior components such as the cooling and exhaust systems and the electronics are different. And they’re heavier, which makes working on them a little more difficult.

Fadrigon said they plan to work on the engines this year as they develop the curriculum for the new module, which, he said, will fit into the two-year curriculum cycle as an option for students. It should be ready for the start of the fall semester next year.

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