CLEARED FOR TAKE-OFF – Lake Superior State University’s Product Development Center (PDC) director Eric Becks, left, joins LSSU business-student intern Douglas Jones in helping Cheboyban-based entrepreneur Andy Liebner (foreground) load a work station that will fabricate graphite-composite ski poles in Feb. 2015. Liebner is at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, coaching Olympians who are likely using poles that came out of his collaboration with LSSU. Jones now works as an analyst for a private equity firm, Blackford Capital, in Grand Rapids, Mich. (LSSU/John Shibley)
SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. — As Andy Liebner coaches a Mexican cross-country skier at the 2018 Winter Olympics, he will likely be using poles that Lake Superior State University’s Product Development Center (PDC) had a hand in developing. Liebner custom manufactures graphite composite ski poles out of a company he owns – United States Ski Pole Company – in Cheboygan, Mich.
Through Sault Ste. Marie’s Smartzone (SSMart), Liebner hired LSSU’s PDC in 2014-15 to redesign and rebuild a machine used in the wrapping process of the ultralight carbon fiber poles. Two LSSU engineering students, Tim VerStrate and Phil Coullard, worked the rebuild on top of still another client-driven senior project required for graduation. That separate initiative designed, built and automated a prototype CNC milling machine for Redwing, Minn.-based Mactech, Inc.
VerStrate, originally from Escanaba, Mich., is a 2015 graduate in mechanical engineering-vehicle systems concentration with an electrical engineering minor. He works for VanAire, Inc., a leading source of high-pressure gas valves and actuators for North America, located in Gladstone, Mich.
Phillip Coullard, from Pickford, Mich., graduated in electrical engineering with a digital systems emphasis in 2017. He works for Cloverland Electric, Dafter, Mich., a cooperative that provides service to Michigan’s Eastern Upper Peninsula.